Survive and Advance: Where the 12 Playoff Drivers Stand
And then there were 12.
The first playoff round in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series concluded Sunday at Dover International Speedway, where Kyle Busch passed Chase Elliott with 2 laps to go to take the victory in the Apache Warrior 400.
Four of the 16 drivers who began the playoffs three races ago are now out of title contention: Kasey Kahne of Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kurt Busch and Richard Childress Racing teammates Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman can no longer race for the 2017 Cup championship.
Here are the 12 remaining drivers, with their respective point totals. For this round, each of the 12 drivers will begin with 3,000 points plus all the playoffs they earned in the regular season and the first round of the playoffs.
- Martin Truex Jr., 3059 points
When Truex, the Cup regular season champion, drove his Furniture Row Racing Toyota to victory in the first playoff race at Chicagoland Speedway, he locked himself into Round 2. But he had accumulated so many playoff points he’d have made it anyway. And he wound up fourth at Dover.
- Kyle Busch, 3041
The winner at both Dover and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has been a rocket throughout the playoffs so far, taking poles in the first two races and qualifying on the outside of Row 1 at Dover before winning his second consecutive race.
- Kyle Larson, 3034
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver might just be Chevrolet’s best hope for a championship. Larson’s 34 playoff points, combined with top-five finishes at both Chicagoland and New Hampshire meant Larson was going to advance to Round 2 regardless of what happened at Dover, which turned out to be a fifth-place finish.
- Brad Keselowski, 3020
Like Kyle Larson, Keselowski had enough points amassed in the first two playoff races to punch his ticket to Round 2, which meant the Team Penske driver didn’t have to sweat out the Monster Mile. Which was good, because he finished 10th and was a non-factor in the outcome.
- Jimmie Johnson, 3017
Yes, Johnson has won three races this season, including the first one at Dover. But the seven-time Cup champion’s Hendrick Motorsports team is at a pretty serious speed disadvantage to the Toyotas and will have his hands full in Round 2. Johnson was third at Dover, a track where he’s won 11 races.
- Kevin Harvick, 3015
Getting crashed out at New Hampshire didn’t help the 2014 champion’s points standings, but the points reset this round. Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing team have won a championship before, so don’t count them out.
- Denny Hamlin, 3013
Sure, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch understandably — and correctly — have gotten the lion’s share of the Toyota love so far in the playoffs. But don’t sleep on Hamlin, who has come on strong in recent weeks to become a title contender.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 3010
A fortuitous caution flag in Stage 1 allowed Stenhouse to finish fourth and pick up 7 stage points, which was the difference between advancing and getting knocked out. He just squeaked past Ryan Newman for the final spot.
- Ryan Blaney, 3008
Blaney’s second year in Cup has been a season of firsts — first Cup victory at Pocono in June, as well as his first playoff appearance and the first for the venerable Wood Brothers Racing operation. Blaney struggled at Dover, finishing 23rd.
- Chase Elliott, 3006
Although the second-year Cup driver is still looking for his first race victory after getting passed at the end of the Dover race by Kyle Busch, over the course of the entire season, Elliott has been the most consistent of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers.
- Matt Kenseth, 3005
One of four Toyota drivers to make it to the final six, Kenseth finished ninth and Chicagoland and third at New Hampshire, before following that up with a xxx-place run at Dover, the track where he made his Cup debut in 1998.
- Jamie McMurray, 3003
Even though McMurray advanced to the second round of the playoffs, he’s at a huge disadvantage points-wise and will almost certainly need to win a race in Round 2 if he hopes to advance.