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8 is Enough: Where the Top Drivers Stand After Texas

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We’re down to final race of Round 3 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, following Kevin Harvick’s dramatic victory in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Harvick, the 2014 Cup champion, passed Martin Truex Jr. with 10 laps to go to win at Texas and punch his ticket to the Cup championship race Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  It was just the second victory of the season for Harvick, but it came at exactly the right time for the driver and his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team.

By virtue of his sec0nd-place finish at Texas, Truex is locked into Homestead, too, in his Furniture Row Racing Toyota. That leaves five drivers left to settle the final playoff spot next week at Phoenix Raceway.

Here’s where all eight drivers stand going into the penultimate race of the 2017 season:

  1. Kyle Busch, locked in

The 2015 Cup champion punched his ticket to Homestead last week with a win at Martinsville Speedway. Good thing, too, since on Lap 1, Busch went up the hill and into Brad Keselowski, tearing a big hole in the right-front fender of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Busch finished 19th at Texas. 

  1. Kevin Harvick, locked in

Talk about coming up big at the right time. Harvick methodically ran down Martin Truex Jr. in the closing laps, setting him up for the race-winning pass. Given Truex’s superiority on 1.5-mile tracks all year, Harvick’s performance was impressive and maybe even a bit surprising.

  1. Martin Truex Jr., locked in

So, even though he didn’t win at Texas, consider this stat: In eight playoff races, Truex has three victories in the Furniture Row Racing Toyotas, two runner-up finishes and seven top fives, which means he has enough point to make the final race. But will his first playoff loss on a 1.5-mile track be cause for concern?

  1. Brad Keselowski, +19

After getting tagged by Kyle Busch on Lap 1, the 2012 champ had to pit to repair a flat tire and went a lap down at Texas. The good news is the driver and his Team Penske squad stayed calm and rebounded to finish fifth. That puts Keselowski in great shape heading into Phoenix. 

  1. Denny Hamlin, – 19

Sure, finishing third at Texas was a solid effort for Hamlin, but to advance, he’s going to need to either win at Phoenix or post a top-five and hope Keselowski has serious issues and falls out. Not impossible, but unlikely.

  1. Ryan Blaney, -22

Everything noted above about Hamlin applies to Blaney, too. Still, the second-year driver has had an impressive playoff run, his first and the first for the Wood Brothers Racing team.

  1. Chase Elliott, – 49

Starting from the 34th position because his car was unable to make it through inspection in time to qualify on Friday, Elliott valiantly worked his way through the field to finish in the top 10. But it likely was too little, too late. Anything less than a win at Phoenix and Elliott’s title hopes are over.

  1. Jimmie Johnson, -51

The seven-time Cup champion had another sub-par playoff race. In fact, he had an awful weekend, finishing 27th at a track where he’s won seven races. You can stick a fork in his playoff hopes — he’s done unless he wins at Phoenix. His Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets just haven’t had enough speed all season long.

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen is a veteran motorsports journalist. He spent 13 years with FOXSports.com, where he was Digital Content Manager. Previously, he was executive editor of NASCAR Scene and managing editor of National Speed Sport News. Jensen served as the president of the National Motorsports Press Association and is the group’s former Writer of the Year.