NASCAR Playoffs Get Underway
After a 26-race regular season, the NASCAR playoffs get started, and for the first time, the playoff opener will be at Las Vegas. 16 drivers qualified for the playoffs, and after 3 races, 4 drivers will be eliminated.
NASCAR Cup Series
• 16 drivers qualify
• Drivers awarded playoff points for regular season wins, stage wins and points position
• Drivers automatically advance to next round with win
• Bottom 4 drivers in points (provided they don't win in round) will be eliminated after 3rd, 6th and 9th races
• Best finisher among 4 remaining drivers in season finale wins championship
It's no surprise, since they won 13 of the 26 regular season races and start the playoffs tied with 50 playoff points that Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick open as co-favorites at 9-4. Behind them is defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. at 9-2, and then Kyle Larson at 10-1.
Last year, with the opener at another 1.5-mile track in Chicago, Truex Jr. won the opener and went on to win the championship. He was the 3rd driver in the last 7 years to win the opener and also the championship. But in 2016, Truex Jr. finished 11th in points after winning the opener.
Busch, Harvick Look to Keep Rolling on 1.5-Mile Tracks
4 races during the 10-race playoffs will be held on 1.5-mile tracks, one in each round, including the finale at Homestead on Nov. 18. There have been 7 races held on such tracks this season, with Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick winning 3 apiece, and Martin Truex Jr. winning the most recent such race at Kentucky on July 14.
Earlier this year, Harvick dominated at Las Vegas. This is the first year that Las Vegas has hosted multiple Cup Series races in a season, but Harvick could be a candidate to sweep both races in the first opportunity for any driver to do so.
Meanwhile, Busch enters as the one seed, having won the regular season points championship and collecting 50 playoff points (the same as Harvick, but Busch is ahead on the tiebreaker of winning the regular season title). Only twice in the 14-year history of NASCAR's playoffs has a driver led in points after 26 races and went on to win the championship. The plus side? It happened last year with Martin Truex Jr.
Brad Keselowski Enters Playoffs Blue Hot
Brad Keselowski went winless in the first 24 races of the season, but enters the playoffs coming off wins at 2 iconic tracks, Darlington and Indianapolis. It's the 3rd time a driver has entered the playoffs coming off back-to-back wins. The previous 2 both came from Jimmie Johnson, and both led to a championship.
Who's Hot and Who's Not - Las Vegas
Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas): led 214 laps at Las Vegas earlier this season, 2nd-most laps ever led in Las Vegas race
Kyle Busch (Gibbs): won 3 of 7 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season
Brad Keselowski (Penske): won back-to-back Cup races for 3rd time in career (never won 3 straight races)
Keselowski: finished 7th or better in last 6 Las Vegas races (won in 2014, 2016)
Erik Jones (Gibbs): 5 top-5, 9 top-10 finishes in last 11 races (1 top-5, 5 top-10 finishes in first 15 races this season)
Ryan Blaney (Penske): finished 6th, 7th and 5th in his last 3 Las Vegas races
Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas): 22.5 Avg finish at Las Vegas is his worst at any Cup Series track; finished 30th and 35th in last 2 races at track
Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row): finished outside top 10 in 4 straight and 5 of last 6 races (14 top 10's in first 22 races this season)
Chase Elliott (Hendrick): wrecked out of 2 of 3 career starts at Las Vegas (in 2016, 2018)
Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick): on career-long 49-race winless streak; 13 straight races without a top 5 is 2 off career-long streak
Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas): 20.3 Avg finish in his last 6 races (12.6 in his first 20 this season)
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