NASCAR Cup Series at Richmond: Starting lineup breakdown

Kevin Harvick grabbed his third pole of the season on Friday at Richmond Raceway as he looks to lock himself into the next round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Robert Laberge/Getty Images

RICHMOND, Va. -- The 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season has been somewhat historic in the sense it is the first that three different drivers have won three consecutive races.

Kevin Harvick rattled off consecutive wins at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix. Kyle Busch did it for Texas, Bristol and Richmond. Brad Keselowski has won the past three weeks at Darlington, Indianapolis and Las Vegas.

Neither Harvick nor Busch could capture a fourth consecutive win. And the odds probably are against Keselowski, who admits he has not had the dominant car.

Keselowski will start eighth Saturday night in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway. Harvick won the pole in qualifying Friday night, and Denny Hamlin will start second.

"I think you have to recognize that we're fortunate to have the opportunities and that we haven't just dominated the races," Keselowski said. "When you dominate a race, you don't really need an opportunity. You just don't need any bad luck.

"We have not been dominating the races; we've been able to get opportunities to kind of change our fortune and we've made the most of them, so I think you recognize that and then you recognize that making the most of your opportunities is so important in motorsports and in life. That's, that's where we're at today with these wins that we've had."

Richmond serves as the second race of the three-race opening round of the playoffs with the unpredictable Charlotte Motor Speedway road course being the elimination race next week. The four drivers who haven't won in the round and the lowest in points among the playoff drivers will be eliminated from playoff contention.

The average finish at Richmond among playoff drivers: Kyle Busch (7.2), Hamlin (9.3), Kyle Larson (10.0), Harvick (10.3), Joey Logano (11.5), Clint Bowyer (13.1), Keselowski (13.7), Chase Elliott (13.8), Jimmie Johnson (15.3), Kurt Busch (15.3), Aric Almirola (16.3), Erik Jones (19.0), Martin Truex Jr. (19.8), Austin Dillon (21.1), Ryan Blaney (28.6) and Alex Bowman (30.6).

Playoff drivers with Cup wins at Richmond: Kyle Busch (5), Hamlin (3), Harvick (3), Jimmie Johnson (3), Kurt Busch (2), Bowyer (2), Logano (2), Keselowski (1) and Larson (1).

Here's the lineup rundown for Saturday night's race, pending inspection that starts at noon:

1. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford): Harvick sits in fourth in the standings, with a 38-point cushion on 13th (the current playoff cutoff). Harvick won at Richmond in September 2006, September 2011 and September 2013. He has five fifth-place finishes at Richmond in his past eight starts.

2. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota): Hamlin sits 16th in the standings as he faces a 20-point deficit to get back inside the playoff bubble. Hamlin loves Richmond, earning Cup wins in September 2009, September 2010 and September 2016. He has six consecutive finishes of sixth or better at the track, where his 1,659 laps led leads all active drivers.

3. Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota): Truex leads the Cup standings and has a 65-point edge on 13th. If he leaves Richmond with at least a 56-point edge on 12th, he'll be locked into the next round. Truex has never won at Richmond, but he led 193 laps in September 2016, 198 laps in September 2017 and 121 laps in April 2018.

4. Ryan Blaney (Team Penske No. 12 Ford): Blaney sits seventh in the standings with a 20-point cushion on 13th (the current playoff cutoff). He might need that cushion, as his career best in five Cup starts at Richmond is 18th. What's strange: He has five top-10s in his five Xfinity starts at the track.

5. Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford): Busch sits sixth in the standings with a 24-point cushion on the 13th spot (the current playoff cutoff). He has Cup wins in September 2005 and April 2015 at the track. He led 98 laps in April before settling for 11th. But he knows how to go fast at Richmond, a place where he has started in the top 10 in his previous eight starts and has led 904 laps in his Cup career.

6. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Ford): Almirola sits in ninth in the standings with a 12-point cushion on 13th (the current playoff cutoff). It might be smart to pick him to finish 17th -- he has finished 17th in three of his past four Richmond starts. He has traditionally not qualified well at Richmond, starting 23rd through 27th in his previous eight Richmond starts, so this starting spot is a big deal.

7. Brad Keselowski (Team Penske No. 2 Ford): Keselowski has advanced to the second round of the playoffs thanks to the win at Las Vegas. Keselowski might want to save his luck for future races. He's already good at Richmond, a place where he led 383 laps on the way to victory in September 2014. He rallied from a 28th-place starting spot to finish eighth in April.

8. Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota): Jones sits 15th in the standings, facing a 19-point deficit on 12th, the current spot he would need to get to in order to advance. Jones was 13th in April and sixth a year ago at Richmond.

9. Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet): Larson sits eighth in the standings with a 13-point cushion on 13th (the current playoff cutoff). The defending winner of this race, Larson was seventh in April.

10. Cole Custer (Rick Ware Racing No. 51 Chevrolet): Custer is making his third Cup start of the year. The extra track time shouldn't hurt the Xfinity Series championship contender. Neither will having some SHR equipment and crew.

12. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota): Busch sits second in the standings with a 63-point cushion on 13th (the current playoff cutoff). If he leaves Richmond with a 56-point cushion on 12th, he'll be locked into the next round. Busch's win at Richmond in April was his fifth at the track, going along with wins in May 2009, May 2010, April 2011 and April 2012. He has 1,089 laps led at Richmond, ranking second to only Denny Hamlin (1,659) among those drivers in the field. Busch will drop to the rear of the field at the start after the team fixed the right front of the car damaged in qualifying. His car passed initial tech, so he keeps his "official" starting position of 11th before dropping to the rear on pace laps.

12. Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22 Ford): Logano sits fifth in the standings and has a 34-point cushion on 13th (the current playoff cutoff). Logano won at Richmond in April 2014 and April 2017. That win in 2014 started a streak of top-10 finishes that is at nine at Richmond, where he has finished of first, second and fourth in his past three starts.

13. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet): Bowman is clinging to a playoff spot as he sits 12th in the standings, six points "to the good" of the playoff bubble. He started 11th and finished 18th in April, and he will need to improve on that if he wants to stay to the good.

14. Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet): McMurray had two solid runs before the crash last week at Las Vegas. His last top-5 at Richmond came in April 2015. He is trying to find a ride for next year, as Chip Ganassi has offered him just a Daytona 500 ride and then a management position with the team.

15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford): Stenhouse has two career top-10s at Richmond, including a fourth in April 2017. But the rest of his finishes have been 16th or worse.

16. Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet): Newman won this race 15 years ago. Since then he has just three top-5 finishes at Richmond -- but one of those came a year ago when he finished third.

17. Matt Kenseth (Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 Ford): Kenseth sat on the pole for his previous two Richmond starts. He has led 253 laps. Yet people probably remember most that the ambulance got lost on its way to the care center a year ago.

18. Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet): Elliott sits in 14th in the standings as he faces a nine-point deficit on 12th to get back inside the playoff bubble. Richmond is a place where he can get that done. He started second and finished second in April. He also won an Xfinity race at the track three years ago.

19. William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet): Byron started ninth and finished 12th in April. Don't be surprised if he pulls off a top-10.

20. Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford): This might be Menard's worst track. In 23 starts, a fifth-place finish in September 2013 is his only top-10. He has an average starting spot and finish of 24th.

21. Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet): Johnson is 13th in the standings, six points behind Alex Bowman in 12th. Bowman is currently the last driver who would advance on points. Johnson won at Richmond twice, sweeping the races in 2007. He has led in just one Richmond race in his past 11 starts. But he has finishes of 11th or better in his past eight.

22. Chris Buescher (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 37 Chevrolet): Might be another forgettable day for Buescher, who seeks his first top-15 finish at Richmond. His best is 17th in five starts.

23. Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports No. 34 Ford): McDowell was 12th at Richmond in September 2016, so don't be surprised if he can bust out of his usual mediocre starting spot.

24. Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford): Bowyer sits 11th in the standings with a seven-point cushion on 13th (the current playoff cutoff). Bowyer won at Richmond in May 2008 and September 2012. Can he bring back the magic? Yes. He led 45 laps in April but finished ninth.

25. Bubba Wallace (Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Chevrolet): Wallace finished 25th in April in his only Cup start at Richmond. He had two top-10s in six Xfinity starts at the track.

26. Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet): Dillon sits in 10th in the standings with a nine-point cushion on 13th (the current playoff cutoff). Dillon will need a career day at Richmond, a place where his best Cup finish was 13th and where he has only two finishes better than 20th.

27. Matt DiBenedetto (Go Fas Racing No. 32 Ford): DiBenedetto enjoyed a 16th-place finish in April, a solid run for this team. He needs another one of those finishes as he seeks sponsorship and a ride for 2019.

28. AJ Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47 Chevrolet): Allmendinger seeks his first top-10 at Richmond since April 2014. He has finishes of 26th and 27th in his past two Richmond starts.

29. Ty Dillon (Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet): Dillon was 20th in the spring, not a bad result for his team.

30. Ross Chastain (Premium Motorsports No. 15 Chevrolet): After his win last week in the Xfinity race at Las Vegas, the watermelon-growing, watermelon-smashing Chastain has been the darling of the media. This isn't a bad track for him -- he was 28th in April.

31. Corey LaJoie (TriStar Motorsports No. 72 Chevrolet): LaJoie didn't compete in this race in April; he was 29th at Richmond a year ago.

32. Jeffrey Earnhardt (Gaunt Brothers Racing No. 96 Toyota): Earnhardt knows how to rally a little bit at Richmond. He started 40th and finished 27th in the regular-season finale two years ago.

33. Gray Gaulding (Rick Ware Racing No. 52 Chevrolet): Gaulding has finished 35th in his past two Richmond starts.

34. Alon Day (BK Racing No. 23 Toyota): The Israeli driver is making his second career Cup start and first on an oval. He was 32nd a year ago at Sonoma in his Cup debut.

35. Joey Gase (StarCom Racing No. 00 Chevrolet): Gase will make his fifth start of the season. He has raced in Cup at Richmond -- he caboosed the field in April 2015.

36. Landon Cassill (StarCom Racing No. 99 Chevrolet): Cassill finished 21st in April 2017 at Richmond, a place where he has 14 career Cup starts.

37. Timmy Hill (Carl Long Motorsports No. 66 Toyota): Hill is making his third start at Richmond. He has finished 34th in both of his previous ones.

38. Daniel Suarez (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota): Suarez has back-to-back top-10s at Richmond. And he finished in the top 10 last week at Las Vegas. Suarez, who already has taken Joe Gibbs Racing out of his Twitter bio, is making his case for Stewart-Haas Racing to hire him to replace Kurt Busch in 2019. Suarez: "There has been a lot going on and it can be hard to focus sometimes. We know that we know how to do it -- we just need the right pieces together. This is definitely the best car I've had in race trim at this track." After posting the fifth fastest speed in qualifying, his time was disallowed for failing post-qualifying technical inspection.

39. David Ragan (Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Ford): Ragan has a third and a pair of fourths in his Cup career at Richmond -- but the last of those came in 2011. He failed technical inspection and his qualifying time was disallowed.

40. Regan Smith (Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Chevrolet): Smith has run only two Cup races at Richmond since 2012, and both of those were in 2016. His best finish at the track is 17th. He also failed technical inspection and will start at the rear of the field.