DOVER, Del. â Thereâs only one guarantee in the NASCAR Playoffs: palpable, lay-awake-at-night pressure.
We saw it mount last weekend in Charlotte Motor Speedwayâs raucous Bank of America Roval 400, weâll see it Sunday at the track with the literal giant monster looming outside to illustrate its beastly nature, and itâs only going to ramp up over the course of the next month and a half as the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs roll on ahead on the road to Miami.
We also witnessed both ends of the age spectrum prevail in the three-race Round of 16, with one of the oldest drivers (Martin Truex Jr.) and one of the youngest (Chase Elliott) snagging wins, so it begs the question â whoâs better equipped to handle the playoff pressure, youth or experience?
Turns out, weâve got some mixed opinions âŠ but theyâre all feeling the pressure, regardless of age.
âThere is a reason most of these drivers are bald. I donât know if it is the helmet, but it might be the stress,â reigning champion Joey Logano joked Friday morning at Dover International Speedway, site of Sundayâs Drydene 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, Sirius XM). âThere is a lot you have to deal with as a driver and as a leader. There is a lot that you have to overcome and figure out. The pressure is on this time of year and it either makes you better or you are going to fall apart.
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âIt kind of depends on the person. A lot of times you have to figure out what works for you. What works for Kyle Busch or Jimmie Johnson or Brad (Keselowski) or whoever is different. You have to go through these high-pressure moments a few times to understand what works for you. That is why the experienced guys have such an advantage, they have been through it before and know how to handle it and the pressure actually makes them better. I feel like we are in a good spot for that reason being in this spot before.â
Flash back to Sunday, when Elliott â the third-youngest driver to make the playoffs and second-youngest remaining â put together one of NASCARâs most memorable runs to rebound from an admittedly boneheaded late-race mistake to overtake some of NASCARâs most-established talent and propel himself to the Round of 12 with a head of steam.
âŠ Not exactly a strong example of youth and inexperience caving to the playoff pressure there, and Elliott thinks thereâs nothing to the notion that notches on a belt lead to winnerâs stickers in Victory Lane.
âThatâs (Joeyâs) opinion and heâs entitled to it. So, whatever makes him feel good,â Elliot said Friday. âI think it benefits (drivers that) do their job the best.â
And now, for the tiebreaker: what does Truex â the 2017 champ, winner of the first two Round of 16 races and second-oldest driver remaining in the playoffs â have to say?
âI donât know. I think it could go either way. I think it depends on where you are at with your team at the moment. I think experience helps for sure, especially if you get in a bad situation or your back is against a wall and you need to keep your head straight. Things like that,â Truex said Friday. âA guy like Chase and his team â they have been here quite a few years as well. Itâs definitely easier when you have done it before. When you understand the pressure and how teams the approach the playoffs is different than the regular season, but I think everybody left in the playoffs is good and they can handle it.â
Maybe thatâs just it, then.
A decade and a half behind the wheel? Yet to eclipse 150 career Cup starts? Doesnât matter â as long as you can drive.
Still, though, itâs evident that if even a champion driver that dominated the opening round is feeling the pressure âŠ they all are. It just comes down to who can keep their cool for 10 weeks and who can find ways to stay focused.
âI canât tell you (what works for me),â joked Logano, who was fastest in Fridayâs opening practice. âI think it is just finding ways to enjoy it and have fun. If you look at the past, the playoffs have been the times we have scored the most wins and most points throughout these 10 races.
âThat helps with confidence to fire away at these playoffs and not even really think about (the pressure).â