Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Monster Energy NASCAR Playoff Winners and Losers
The field is set for the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, with 12 drivers still in championship contention after three races.
Here are the big winners and losers from Round 1 of the playoffs:
Toyota drivers Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. won all three poles and all three races in the first round of the playoffs in an impressive show of domination. All told, Toyotas have won nine of the last 12 Cup races.
In three playoff races, the best finish by any Ford Motor Co. driver was Kevin Harvick’s third-place run in the first race at Chicagoland Speedway. Brad Keselowski’s fourth-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was Ford’s only other top five of Round 1.
WINNER: Chase Elliott
Although he was understandably bummed out about being passed by Kyle Busch on the penultimate lap at Dover International Speedway, Elliott had a pair of second-place finishes in the three Round 1 races.
LOSER: Richard Childress Racing
RCR drivers Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman both made the playoffs, but neither got out of the first round or even had a top-10 finish. That wasn’t a huge surprise, but it was still disappointing for the team.
WINNER: Kyle Larson
In the last four races dating back to the regular-season finale, Larson has one victory, one runner-up finish and four top fives in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. He remains the best championship hope of any Chevrolet driver.
LOSER: Kurt Busch
Of the four drivers eliminated in Round 1, Busch was the biggest surprise, given that he came into the playoffs having scored top-five finishes in each of the final three regular-season races.
WINNER: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
A gamble to pit late in Stage 1 at Dover allowed Stenhouse to pick up 7 points for finishing fourth in that stage. That was the difference between him advancing in the playoffs or getting knocked out. Amazingly, Stenhouse advanced despite not finishing higher than 15th in any of the three playoff races.
The Chevrolet teams did better than the Ford teams in Round 1, but they still are behind the pace-setting Toyotas.
WINNER: Martin Truex Jr.
The Furniture Row Racing driver won the playoff opener at Chicagoland, then posted top fives at New Hampshire and Dover. With a series-leading 3059 points, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Truex doesn’t make it to the championship round. Truex’s average finish in Round 1 was 3.33, best of the 16 drivers.
LOSER: Kasey Kahne
In his final season with Hendrick Motorsports, there were no heroics for Kahne, one of the four drivers to get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. His best finish in the playoffs was 14th at Dover.
WINNER: Kyle Busch
Three races, two poles, two victories. Early in the playoffs, Busch has established himself as the man to beat as he goes after his second championship in three years. He has enough points that he should easy advance to the title race.
LOSER: Jimmie Johnson
At Dover, Johnson finished third, which is certainly a good result. But he’s won 11 times at that track, so third was nothing to get excited about. On top of that, it was his first top-five finish in his last 16 races. He does not appear to be a serious championship threat this year. Of course, until he’s out of the playoffs, he’s still dangerous.
All Images Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography