16-Driver NASCAR Playoff Field Set
The 26-race 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season has officially concluded, following Kyle Larson’s dramatic late-race charge to victory in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway.
Over the next 10 weeks, 16 drivers will compete to become the 2017 Cup champion. Here’s all 16 playoff drivers and where they rank heading into the playoffs, which will begin next week at Chicagoland Speedway.
- Jamie McMurray, 2003 points
The good news for McMurray is that for the second consecutive year, he’s in the NASCAR playoffs with his Chip Ganassi Racing team. The bad news is that he has the fewest bonus points of the 16-playoff drivers. He also has just two top fives this season, fewest of any playoff driver.
- Matt Kenseth, 2,005 points
The Richmond pole winner, Kenseth has had good speed in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas for most of the season, although his racing luck hasn’t been especially good. Kenseth won’t be back at JGR next season, making him one of three playoff drivers who has not announced his 2018 plans.
- Austin Dillon, 2,005 points
A fuel-mileage gamble in the Coca-Cola 600 gave Dillon his first career Cup victory despite leading only the final 2 laps of the 400-lap race. Richard Childress Racing getting two cars into the playoffs definitely was a surprise.
- Kasey Kahne, 2,005 points
After what had been a lackluster season, Kahne came out of nowhere to score a surprising upset in the prestigious Brickyard 400. But he won’t be back at Hendrick Motorsports next year; instead, he’ll be replaced by rookie William Byron.
- Kurt Busch, 2,005 points
Winning the Daytona 500 defined Busch’s season as a good one, although he’s had a hard time replicating that good fortune since. Still, he’s a past champion and Stewart-Haas Racing is one of the sport’s elite teams. His 2018 plans have not been announced.
- Ryan Newman, 2,005 points
A late-race pit stop gamble gave Newman a surprise win at Phoenix, which broke a 127-race winless streak for the driver and a 112-race winless streak for Richard Childress Racing. But a lack of subsequent speed means Newman and the team remain dark horses.
- Chase Elliott, 2,006 points
Elliott is still hunting his first Cup points race victory. That said, during the regular season, he earned more points than each of his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates. Elliott has been consistent, although the Hendrick Chevrolets lack the speed of the front-running Toyotas.
- Ryan Blaney, 2,008 points
This is the first time Blaney has made the playoffs and the first time the legendary Wood Brothers Racing team have made them, too. Blaney got his first career Cup victory in June at Pocono Raceway. Next year, he moves to a third car at Team Penske.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 2,010 points
For the first time since 2014, Roush Fenway Racing is back in the playoffs, thanks to Stenhouse’s victories at Talladega Superspeedway and the July race at Daytona International Speedway. His Fords haven’t had a lot of speed elsewhere, unfortunately.
- Denny Hamlin, 2013 points
Hamlin was the subject of controversy at Darlington Raceway, where he won both the Cup and the NASCAR XFINITY Series races, only to have both of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas flunk post-race inspection. His Darlington win was encumbered, which means he lost 5 playoff points as a result.
- Kevin Harvick, 2,015 points
Two things Harvick has going for him are the fact that he won a championship in 2014 and his Stewart-Haas Racing crew, led by crew chief Rodney Childers, is battle-tested and unfazed by the crazy levels of pressure the playoffs bring.
- Jimmie Johnson, 2,017 points
This is a tough one. Johnson won three of the first 13 races this season, but hasn’t finished better than 10th in the last 13 races. And there’s no question that the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets are at a speed deficit to the Toyotas. Then again, there are plenty of reasons Johnson and the No. 48 team have won seven championships and why he has an “S” on his cape.
- Brad Keselowski, 2,019 points
The 2012 champion and Team Penske are somewhat enigmatic this season. In the first six races of the season, Keselowski had victories at Atlanta and Martinsville, three top-twos and five top-five finishes. But in his last four races before Richmond Keselowski didn’t finish better than 15th, and teammate Joey Logano missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
- Kyle Busch, 2029 points
The champion two years ago, Busch is in great position to become the 16th driver to win multiple titles in NASCAR’s top division. His Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas are fast and Busch has outpaced all three of his teammates. He has a pair of victories at Pocono and Bristol and appears to be peaking at the right time.
- Kyle Larson, 2,033 points
This has been a breakout season for Larson behind the wheel of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, as he’s won four races so far in 2017, including Richmond. For most of the season, Larson has been the best of the Chevrolet drivers. And let’s not forget the fact that he dominated last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which will host the final race of the season.
- Martin Truex Jr., 2053 points
Without question, Truex and his Furniture Row Racing Toyota team have been the stars of the 2017 Cup season and they showed it again at Richmond, despite the fact that he didn’t win. Truex leads the series in victories with four, stage wins with 18, top-10 finishes with 17 and laps led. With all the bonus points Truex has already amassed, he is the top seed and the favorite to win the championship this year.
All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017