Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney are currently the only NASCAR Cup Series drivers guaranteed to still be holding a playoff spot when the series comes to Martinsville next weekend. The other six spots in the top eight will be decided today at Kansas Speedway.
Here’s a look at the NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings, and what to watch for during today’s Hollywood Casino 400.
1. Kyle Larson (locked in to next round)
2. Ryan Blaney (locked in to next round)
3. Denny Hamlin +56 points above cutoff
4. Martin Truex Jr. +48
5. Kyle Busch +41
6. Kevin Harvick +36
7. Brad Keselowski +20
8. Joey Logano +18
9. Alex Bowman -18 points below cutoff
10. Chase Elliott -22
11. Clint Bowyer -24
12. William Byron -27
Kevin Harvick is just above the cutoff for the playoffs, but will have a tough battle today to stay in position. Harvick failed three pre-qualifying inspections Saturday at Kansas Speedway, which meant he wasn’t allowed to make a run in qualifying and will have to start last for today’s race.
“I have to pass a lot of cars,” Harvick told reporters Saturday of his failed inspections. “It is what it is at this point. You just go out and try to strategize and plan what you can and try to pass as many cars when you can at the beginning and go from there.”
The back of the pack to start today’s race will be full of playoff drivers, with five starting 20th or worse. Clint Bowyer will start 21st, Denny Hamlin 23rd, William Byron 25th, and Joey Logano 29th.
The Nos. 3,4, and 5 spots today will be Blaney, Brad Keselowski, and Larson. Martin Truex Jr. will start 11th, Chase Elliott 14th, Alex Bowman 16th, and Kyle Busch 18th.
Hendrick Motorsports put three of its four drivers in the playoffs this season, but all three are in danger of being cut before reaching Martinsville next week. Bowman, Elliott, and Byron could advance should any of them win today, but being so far below the cutoffs, it’s likely they each need to win to move on.
“I think this is the toughest round of 12 that I’ve been part of in my four years for sure,” Elliott told reporters at the track Saturday. “All 12 teams and drivers are good that are left right now. We knew coming into this round it wasn’t going to be easy, and it was going to be tough to move on, and here we are.”
Both Byron and Bowman are further in the playoffs than either has been in their careers.
“We can’t approach it any differently than we have any week leading up to this,” Bowman said. “I feel like when you try to step your game up or change what you’re doing, you end up making mistakes or not doing as well. We were really strong here in the spring, I feel like we’ve only gotten stronger since then. We have a great race car here and we have to go execute.”
Three for Penske?
Hendrick isn’t the only team in danger this week. Team Penske drivers Keselowski has three wins this season, and Logano has two, but their teammate, Blaney, is the only one who’s feeling comfortable this week. Blaney’s win at Talladega on Monday automatically advanced him to the round of 8, while Keselowski and Logano sit in the final spots above the cutoff in 7th and 8th. They’ll both need good finishes today to ensure all three teammates move on.
Keselowski and Logano are the last two winners of races at Martinsville. Keselowski won in the spring race earlier this season, and Logano won the First Data 500 last fall, a win that advanced him to the championship race at Homestead Miami en route to his first NASCAR Cup Series title.
Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276) 638-8801 ext. 241.