The NASCAR playoffs have an interesting quirk. Anybody can take the checkered flag, whether they’re in the playoffs or not.
That explains AJ Allmendinger’s emotional reaction after claiming victory at the ROVAL in Charlotte on Sunday, where the Round of 12 closed with the hybrid road/oval race that cut the postseason field to eight.
“I hate crying right now, but it’s a freaking Cup race, man,” said the 41-year-old racer from Los Gatos, Calif., cherishing his third career victory at NASCAR’s top level. “You don’t know when it’s ever going to happen again.”
It will happen again next Sunday — for someone. Four races remain in the season, with eight drivers left in contention for the Cup Series crown: William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Chris Buescher, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Ryan Blaney.
Eliminated were Brad Keselowski, Ross Chastain, Bubba Wallace and Kyle Busch.
“We gave it a valiant effort,” said Busch, who finished third on the ROVAL in a must-win scenario. “We wanted to come in here and win. We had good speed, just wasn’t able to hold on with the tires as long as I wanted to.”
Panini America NASCAR Brand Ambassador Joey Logano finished fifth, with four races to go as the reigning series champion. “We had the speed to win if you would have put us first, but I’m pretty sure anybody in the top seven would say the same thing,” he said.
Byron ran second for the second consecutive race after winning at Texas on Sept. 24. Other playoff drivers in the top 10 of the race included Reddick in sixth, Buescher in seventh and Chastain in 10th.
“We were capable of more today,” Buescher said. “We had to be smart … racing for a bigger picture.”
The picture will come into focus more in the semifinal races, at Las Vegas, Homestead-Miami and Martinsville. Two ovals and a short track will determine the Championship 4 racers who will run a winner-take-all finale at Phoenix for the title.
“We were able to get in,” said Larson, who took 13th on the ROVAL, “which was the goal.”