Rating The 14 NASCAR Playoff Outsiders
The field is almost set for the season-ending, 10-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs that begin next week at Chicagoland Speedway.
Thirteen drivers already have clinched playoff spots by virtue of winning races. Also in the playoff mix are three drivers who have the most points among those who haven’t won a race so far this year
If there is a first-time 2017 winner in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, one of those three winless drivers — Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth or Jamie McMurray — would be knocked out of the playoffs.
Here are the 14 drivers who have one final chance at making the playoffs with a win at Richmond and how they stack up against each other. None of these 14 can make it in on points; for each of them, a victory on Saturday night is their only path to the playoffs.
- Michael McDowell
The Leavine Family Racing team has stepped it up this year and McDowell is having an excellent season. But Richmond is a place where McDowell struggles. His best finish in 13 starts here is 12th, with nine finishes of 39th or worse.
- Danica Patrick
In nine starts at this Virginia track, Patrick’s best finish is 15th and her average finish is 23.333. And in 179 career starts, she’s never finished better than sixth in any Cup race.
- Chris Buescher
With just three Richmond starts under his belt, Buescher’s best result at this track was 17th and his average finish is 25.00.
- Trevor Bayne
Richmond hasn’t been a great track for the Roush Fenway Racing driver, who has a best finish of 13th and an average finish of 18.200 around the .75-mile circuit.
- Ty Dillon
One of three rookies in the field, Dillon is coming off a nice weekend at Darlington Raceway, where he matched his career-best result with a 13th-place finish.
- David Ragan
Once, Ragan finished third at Richmond, but that was way back in his rookie season of 2007. But he hasn’t finished better than 17th here since 2011, when he wound up fourth in both races.
- AJ Allmendinger
A sixth-place finish in 2014 was the ‘Dinger’s high-water mark at Richmond, where his average finish is just 20.850.
- Paul Menard
In his last four Richmond Cup starts, Menard’s best finish was 22nd, although he did come home fifth here in Sept. 2013.
- Aric Almirola
Although he’s never won at Richmond – his only Cup victory was at Daytona in July 2014 — Almirola has finished as high as fourth on this track. He also has four top-10 finishes here.
- Daniel Suarez
Like fellow Toyota racer Erik Jones, Suarez is a rookie, so he doesn’t have an established track record at Richmond, but what he does have is a fast car.
- Clint Bowyer
A two-time Richmond winner, Bowyer has four top-five and 12 top-10 finishes at this track. He should be fired up after losing an engine and finishing last at Darlington Raceway Sunday night.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Richmond is a pretty good track for Earnhardt, who has three victories, 10 top fives, 14 top 10s and an average finish of 13.714.
- Joey Logano
The last time the Cup teams raced at Richmond, Logano won, but his car was found to be illegal after the race, so his victory didn’t count towards the playoffs. Logano has two wins, six top fives and an average finish of 12.471 here.
- Erik Jones
In his rookie season, Jones hasn’t compiled a body of work at Richmond, but he’s been running up front a lot lately, with three consecutive top-five finishes, including nearly winning at Bristol. Jones is the only one of the 14 drivers on the list who has more than one top-five finish in the last four races.
All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017