NASCAR
Bob Pockrass, NASCAR 79d

What do the eight drivers still looking to advance need at Dover?

NASCAR

Fans can already see the impact of playoff points and stage racing on the NASCAR playoffs, as the playoff drivers enter the round of 12 in the first elimination race Sunday at Dover International Speedway.

Two drivers -- Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch -- have qualified with wins. And two more drivers -- Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski -- already have qualified on points. Larson and Keselowski have more total points than five drivers can obtain by finishing second and winning both stages at Dover.

Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth could clinch spots in the quarterfinal round during the Dover race if they rack up points in the opening two stages. All they need to be is 46 points ahead of 12th at the end of the first stage or 36 points ahead of 12th at the end of the second stage (and possibly less if enough drivers have fallen out of the race).

With 12th-place driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and 13th-place driver Austin Dillon tied in the standings, there is no additional math when looking at scenarios if there is a winner from outside the top 12.

So here's the outlook for the 12 playoff drivers vying for eight spots:

Denny Hamlin

Points: 44 points ahead of 13th/12th

Clinches if finishes: 25th

Outlook: Hamlin has finished at least 25th or better in 15 of his last 16 starts at Dover. And even if he finishes 40th, he'll have a great shot of advancing. He's running well, so don't be surprised if he's clinched a spot by the end of the second stage.

Matt Kenseth

Points: 43 points ahead of 13th/12th

Clinches if finishes: 24th

Outlook: Kenseth pretty much just needs to finish the race. He has 24 top-10s in 37 career starts at Dover -- and his average finish of 12.8 is second among all active drivers who have at least five starts -- so it would take a disaster plus uncharacteristic solid runs by many of those behind him for him to miss out.

Jimmie Johnson

Points: 32 points ahead of 13th/12th

Clinches if finishes: 13th

Outlook: This isn't the round that Johnson should sweat. He has 11 wins at Dover, including in June. He has led 3,100 laps at Dover. He'll be fast. Nothing to worry about.

Ryan Blaney

Points: 26 points ahead of 13th/12th

Clinches if finishes: Seventh

Outlook: Blaney has just one top-10 in a Cup car at Dover and was 32nd in June. He has a solid cushion, but if he doesn't run well, he'll hope that those behind him don't rack up the stage points they likely will need to catch him.

Chase Elliott

Points: 26 points ahead of 13th/12th

Clinches if finishes: Seventh

Outlook: Elliott has finished in the top five in all three of his Cup starts at Dover - and in the top 10 in his four Xfinity starts and his lone truck start. Considering that the penalty for Chicagoland could have been 25 points worse, he should feel good about his fate in this round.

Kevin Harvick

Points: 25 points ahead of 13th/12th

Clinches if finishes: Sixth

Outlook: Harvick has led 786 laps at Dover since 2014, but none in his last two starts. That's OK. He doesn't need to lead laps. A top-10 should get him through.

Jamie McMurray

Points: Nine points ahead of 13th/12th

Clinches if finishes: First

Outlook: While he was seventh in June, Dover hasn't always been nice to McMurray. He does have three top-10s in his last five starts, but he went 13 straight without a top-10 before finding the recent success. He can't be comfortable. Earning stage points would help.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Points: Zero points ahead of 13th, nine points behind 11th

Clinches if finishes: First

Outlook: A 39th in June and only one top-10 in 10 starts at Dover doesn't exactly translate into confidence. Watching him battle Dillon, who has been good at Dover and got the job done last year to advance, could be the best part of Sunday afternoon.

Austin Dillon

Points: Zero points behind 12th, nine points behind 11th

Clinches if finishes: First

Outlook: Before his eighth a year ago that propelled him into the quarterfinal round, Dillon's best at Dover was a 20th. He backed up that performance by finishing 12th in June. Don't count him out.

Ryan Newman

Points: One point behind 12th, 10 points behind 11th

Clinches if finishes: First

Outlook: He was fourth in June, his third top-10 in his last 13 starts at Dover. The Richard Childress Racing cars all tend to run well or run poorly at tracks. They need to have a good run Sunday.

Kurt Busch

Points: 17 points behind 12th, 26 points behind 11th

Clinches if finishes: First

Outlook: Busch has one top-10 (a fifth) in his last 11 starts since his October 2011 victory at the track. While you wouldn't dismiss his chances based on his talent and his team's experience, things don't look good for Busch.

Kasey Kahne

Points: 21 points behind 12th, 30 points behind 11th

Clinches if finishes: First

Outlook: He has led only two laps in his last 14 starts at Dover. Is there any chance that the Brickyard magic will happen again? Sure, but he might have better luck winning cash in the casino than winning the race Sunday.

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