Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
GALLERY: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Picture Entering Kansas
Stewart-Haas Racing showed the rest of the class on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway how to play nice with each other, and it currently has them in a good situation with a possibility to lock all four drivers into the Round of 8.
With the fortune sealed for pair, and almost sealed for two more, the bottom four will be fighting to get themselves above the cut-off line in the Windy City this weekend.
1. Aric Almirola – Locked into the Round of 8
Stewart-Haas Racing may have played nice at Talladega Superspeedway, but it was Aric Almirola taking in the biggest benefit as he won the race to lock himself into the next round.
He will hope to keep the momentum rolling through Kansas, where he has scored back-to-back top-10’s.
2. Chase Elliott – Locked into the Round of 8
With nothing to worry about Talladega after winning at Dover International Speedway, Chase Elliott tried to make something happen on the superspeedway but couldn’t find ground through the second half of the race before being involved in the last lap wreck. Now the focus remains the same this week as last – as crew chief Alan Gustafson said, earning bonus points will help their chances for the next round.
Kansas is filled with curiosity, though, given Hendrick Motorsports’ intermediate struggles this season and only two top-10’s in five appearances. A good performance there would certainly boost confidence heading into the next round.
3. Kevin Harvick +63
With seven wins during the regular season, Kevin Harvick had a healthy cushion entering each round, and that shows as he now holds a 63-point advantage after finishing sixth at Dover and 28th at Talladega after having to pit late for fuel. Essentially, once he takes the green flag on Sunday, he will lock up his chances for the Round of 8.
At Kansas, he has scored two wins in his last five starts there with a worst finish of eighth.
4. Kyle Busch +46
Kyle Busch was among the frustrated drivers at Talladega unable to shake-up the quartet at the front of the field, and getting caught up in the last lap wreck certainly didn’t help matters. However, seven wins, the regular season championship, and an eighth at Dover will allow him to enter this weekend with a healthy advantage.
Kansas Speedway isn’t worrisome as he has scored a top-10 in his last seven starts, including a victory in 2016.
5. Joey Logano +39
Joey Logano continues to be consistent, scoring his fifth straight top-14 in the playoffs with a fifth-place finish at Dover. With the problems for other contenders, he is slowly building a solid cushion over the cut-off line.
Kansas Speedway has produced mixed results that include two top-fives, and two finishes outside of the top-20 in his last four appearances.
6. Kurt Busch +30
Kurt Busch may have ran out of fuel in the late stages at Talladega after pacing 106 laps, but his fifth-place at Dover gives him a considerable gap over the cut-off line.
Notably, he has scored back-to-back top-10’s at Kansas.
7. Clint Bowyer +21
Clint Bowyer knew he needed to avoid poor performances in this round to advance, and was able to score a runner-up at Talladega unlike the 35th-place finish at Dover. With the poor fortunes of his fellow competitors, he is now above the cut-off line with some small breathing room. Now he needs to capitalize to stay there.
His home track of Kansas isn’t his strongest, though, with only one top-10 in his last 10 races. Essentially, getting through this round could prove challenging still.
8. Martin Truex Jr. +18
As one of THE BIG THREE through the season, everyone pegged Martin Truex Jr. being someone to easily cruise through the playoffs. Now, he sits as the final driver set to transfer out of the Round of 12 following a 15th-place finish at Dover after a wreck, and ending up 23rd at Talladega after fighting an ill-handling car all day.
He can’t afford to score another poor finish, so it’s good to see that Kansas has treated him well with two wins and a second in his last three races.
9. Brad Keselowski -18
While he entered the playoffs with momentum after shaking up THE BIG THREE mantra, Brad Keselowski could be on the outside looking in when the checkered flag falls at Kansas after back-to-back finishes outside of the top-10.
He hasn’t performed that well at Kansas, with a pair of finishes outside of the top-10 in his last two appearances following his runner-up in 2017.
10. Ryan Blaney -22
Running out of fuel coming to the green for overtime at Talladega proved costly for Ryan Blaney as he know finds himself needing to make up ground this weekend.
Kansas could be prove to be a lucky ticket with two top-fives in his last three races there.
11. Kyle Larson -38
Kyle Larson made magic happen at the ROVAL to keep his playoff hopes alive, and will essentially need to win on Sunday at Kansas if he wants to do the same once again after back-to-back finishes outside of the top-10. He will also have to that without crew chief Chad Johnston following a penalty issued by NASCAR on Wednesday.
At Kansas, he has two top-six’s to go with four finishes outside of the top-25 in his last six races.
12. Alex Bowman -68
Following a wreck at Dover, Alex Bowman knew he was in a must-win situation if he wants to keep his playoff chances alive. Essentially, Talladega didn’t work out as a late-race incident took him out of contention.
To score a victory at Kansas will be a tall task with only one career top-10 there.
All Photos Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography
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