Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
GALLERY: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Picture Entering Talladega
Stewart-Haas Racing may have been dominant at Dover International, but none of their four drivers has locked the door on making the next round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs yet. Instead, that honor goes to Chase Elliott, who held off the field on a late-race restart with old tires.
While Elliott is the only lock, other competitors have to be feeling comfortable based on the gap that they have over the bottom four in the standings thanks to bonus points. Though from fifth on back, let the nerves begin to go crazy entering Talladega Superspeedway.
1. Chase Elliott – Locked into Round of 8
With the victory at Dover after a late-race call from crew chief Alan Gustafson to leave Chase Elliott out on old tires, there are no worries for the next two weeks for the No. 9 team. However, Gusfatson has said that they’re going to remain on the attack, trying to earn wins and bonus points.
He could possibly make it two in a row as Talladega has been a good track in the past as he finished third after running up front throughout the event in the spring. Kansas is filled with more 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.
2. Kevin Harvick +68
With seven wins during the regular season, Kevin Harvick had a healthy cushion entering the round. He also started off solidly, placing sixth at Dover after pacing 286 of the 404 laps before having to return to pit road for an extra tire change under green.
The speed is there in the No. 4 as Harvick has contended for wins at Talladega with a fourth in April at the superspeedway. Realistically, consistency shouldn’t be a problem for the Stewart-Haas Racing as the last race at Kansas, he has scored two wins in his last five starts there with a worst finish of eighth.
3. Kyle Busch +63
Seven regular season wins and the bonus points from the regular season championship, combined with an eighth at Dover despite a malfunctioning track bar adjusters, give Kyle Busch a healthy cushion right now.
He knows how to get the job done at Talladega Superspeedway where he has only one win and six top-fives in 26 races. Kansas Speedway would be less worrisome as he has scored a top-10 in his last seven starts, including a victory in 2016.
4. Martin Truex Jr. +36
Martin Truex Jr. ran up front at Dover, but was one of the five playoff contenders involved in the Lap 397 wreck when Aric Almirola and Brad Keselowski together. While a 15th-place finish isn’t what you want, having a cushion after five regular season wins makes it easier to handle.
That said, he can’t afford to score another poor finish and that has been a theme for him at Talladega, failing to finish in the top-10 in his last five appearances. If it comes down to Kansas, though, chances are in his favor to make it happen with two wins and a second in his last three races.
5. Joey Logano +31
Joey Logano continues to be consistent, scoring his fourth straight top-14 in the playoffs with a third-place finish at Dover. With the problems for other contenders, he is slowly building a solid cushion over the cut-off line.
He could continue to extend it at Talladega with a second straight victory after winning there in April. Kansas Speedway could make for an interesting elimination event, with mixed results that include two top-fives, and two finishes outside of the top-20 in his last four appearances.
6. Kurt Busch +21
While his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates stole the headlines, Kurt Busch took the more steadier approach en route to scoring a fifth-place finish at Dover. He just needs to keep it going to keep his playoff hopes alive, which is easily possible following a runner-up at Talladega in April, to go with back-to-back top-10’s at Kansas.
7. Brad Keselowski +21
While he entered the playoffs with momentum after shaking up THE BIG THREE mantra, Brad Keselowski is slowly losing the fizz after the late-race incident at Dover relegated him to a 14th-place finish.
That said, he knows what it takes to get the job done at Talladega with a win last season when he needed it. Coming down to Kansas as the elimination event could be interesting, with a pair of finishes outside of the top-10 in his last two appearances following his runner-up in 2017.
8. Ryan Blaney +10
Even with finding himself involved in the late-race incident at Dover and finishing 11th, Ryan Blaney gained five points over the cut-off line, which could be critical if the elimination event at Kansas is as close as things were at the ROVAL.
He will need to survive Talladega, which could be prove tricky as he has failed to post a top-10 in his last four appearances. If something happens there, Kansas could be prove to be a lucky ticket with two top-fives in his last three races there.
9. Aric Almirola -10
After barely sneaking his way into the Round of 12, Aric Almirola is going to need to make some magic happen if he wants it to keep it going after triggering the late-race wreck at Dover and finishing 13th.
Notably, he has scored four straight top-10’s at Talladega. The opportunity to keep his hopes alive is there, if you add in back-to-back top-10’s at Kansas, as well.
10. Clint Bowyer -10
Clint Bowyer knew he needed to avoid poor performances in this round to advance, but unfortunately hasn’t been able to. He ran strong at Dover, but an unscheduled pit stop and contact with the wall in the late stages relegated him to a 35th-place finish. While normally that would end someone’s playoff chances, he remains alive still due to other competitors also having problems. Now he needs to capitalize these next two weeks to get back above the cut-off line.
That could prove to be a problem as he has failed to post a top-10 at Talladega in his last four appearances. His home track of Kansas isn’t much better, either, with only one top-10 in his last 10 races. Essentially, getting through this round could prove challenging.
11. Kyle Larson -12
A quiet day to a 12th-place finish at Dover didn’t prove to be enough for Kyle Larson, as he is currently still below the cut-off line as he was entering the round. Getting up into the top-five will be a necessary if he wants to gain points on those ahead of him.
Notably, he has failed to score a top-10 at Talladega in his last three appearances. If it comes down to Kansas, that could be risky as he has two top-six’s to go with four finishes outside of the top-25 in his last six races.
12. Alex Bowman -34
Following a 28th-place finish at Dover after being involved in the late-race incident, Alex Bowman is now essentially in a must-win situation if he wants to keep his playoff chances alive.
That could prove to be too much as he has just one top-10 at Talladega in six appearances. It doesn’t help when you also add that he has only one top-10 at Kansas, as well.
All Photos Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography
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