By: Mitchell Breuer
The NASCAR Cup Series is still nine races away from the playoffs, but this past weekend at Pocono Raceway proved how quickly the picture can change.
Matt DiBenedetto entered the weekend still in the top-16 in points, as he has been since Las Vegas, even though finishes of 25th or worse in three of his last five starts put him only seven points the cutoff.
On Saturday, the driver of the No. 21 started off strong grabbing ten stage points between the opening segments of the race. With the day starting out strong, the eventual 13th place finish seemed almost like a disappointment considering DiBenedetto was a top-10 car for majority of the race, but still a good points day which increased the gap to 17th up to 39.
When Sunday’s race finally began, so did another solid start for the No. 21 team, scoring seven playoff points, again looking like a top-10 car. The difference between this and the first race though showed at the end, as DiBenedetto finished sixth, his best result since Las Vegas.
If the No. 21 makes the playoffs, this will be a weekend they look back on as one of the reasons why, now having a 57-point barrier separating themselves and 17th, all thanks to two strong runs. Something that not all of the cutoff drivers had this weekend.While DiBenedetto showed what a good weekend will do to your playoff chances, Tyler Reddick did the opposite.
Entering the weekend, the rookie had finally pushed him into the top-16, with only one-point to spare. Reddick caught a break not losing any ground despite finishing 30th in the first race Saturday, but his luck ran out Sunday.As the green flag dropped, Reddick quickly discovered a power steering problem in his No. 8 Chevrolet; the team spent several laps to fix this, never making up the lost ground, having to settle for 35th and no stage points throughout the entire weekend.The momentary cushion he had was gone, and now Reddick sits 18th in the standings, and 26-points behind the cutoff.
We go from a dream weekend for DiBenedetto, to a nightmare for Reddick, to a up and down one for Erik Jones.
Entering Pocono, Jones sat 17th behind Reddick in points and remained that way, after being caught up in an incident with the No. 8 on Saturday. Sunday proved to be a bounce-back day for the No. 20 team though, capturing a season-best third-place finish and jumping into the top-16 in points.
Now if you are a fan of Jones this may sound familiar because last June, he did the exact same thing at the first Pocono race and it started a really strong summer stretch for him which led to a playoff berth.
This sport is all about momentum, and while we may be a ways from the playoffs, this weekend could be looked back on and circled, as not only shake ups in points, but wake up calls for drivers as well.