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What to Watch for: Richmond

1 to Go Until Playoff Field is Set

Saturday night's race at Richmond will mark the end of the regular season. Unless there's a winner from outside the current field, the field of 16 has already been set.

Playoff Situation - Entering Saturday at Richmond
- 13 drivers have locked in spots with wins
- Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray hold last 3 spots
(will clinch spots unless a driver under them wins)
- 17 drivers (including 3 above) will clinch playoff berth with win
- 3 other drivers can clinch berth with win and help (need to get into top 30 in points)

If there is a winner from outside the current playoff field, it's going to be tight between Elliott, Kenseth and McMurray to take the final 2 spots, as they enter Richmond separated by just 3 points.

Next year, the last race before the playoffs is moving to Indianapolis (Richmond will be the 2nd race of the playoffs). The track known as "The Action Track" was a good spot for an exciting race, as 4 of the last 9 races there were decided in the final 5 laps, tied for the most of any track since 2013.

Dale Junior, 19 Others Still Alive to "Win and Get In"

13 drivers have locked in their spots in the playoffs. 20 drivers remain mathematically alive for the final 3 spots, including 17 who can only get in with a win at Richmond. Among those is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will retire from full-time competition after this year, so this is his last chance to win a NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - NASCAR Cup Series Career
- 26 career MENCS wins (T-29th all-time)
- 1 of 11 drivers with multiple Daytona 500 wins
- 4 top-5 finishes in points
- 2-time XFINITY Series champion (1998-99)

There is some hope for Junior Nation. Earnhardt is a 3-time winner at Richmond; only Kyle Busch (4) has won there more among active drivers. But his last win there came in 2006. He's 1 of 4 drivers not yet locked into the playoffs with a Richmond win on their resume.

In the first 13 seasons under the playoff (previously "The Chase") format, 7 drivers have gone from outside to in the playoff field in the regular season finale, but none in the last 3 seasons. Of those 7, none went on to finish in the top 5 in points.

The first driver out of the playoff field right now is Clint Bowyer, who took over Tony Stewart's ride at the start of the season. Bowyer is a 2-time Richmond winner but hasn't won a Cup race since October 2012, a 174-race winless streak. If he were to win, it would be the 4th-longest span between wins in series history.

Logano's Interesting Case

Usually it just takes a win to get into the playoffs. Joey Logano did that earlier this season at Richmond. But his win was labeled as "encumbered" after post-race rules violations were found. The win stays on the record books, but the win wouldn't count for playoff consideration.

Logano, who was tied for the series lead with 14 wins from 2014-16, enters the regular season finale 129 points out of the playoffs, meaning he needs a win to get in. Following that encumbered win at Richmond, Logano has just 3 top 10s in 16 races.

Logano won a series-best 6 races in 2015, and finished runner-up in points last season. This season, he's really dropped off.

Can Anyone Stop the Toyotas?

Martin Truex Jr. easily won the regular season points title, and it was no fluke. He's been the dominant driver this season.

Truex drives a Toyota for Furniture Row Racing, with teammate Erik Jones. Along with fellow Toyota team Joe Gibbs Racing, those 6 cars have combined to win 6 of the last 8 races heading into Richmond. In fact, over the last 4 races, those teams have had 7 of the 8 top-2 finishes. Gibbs is now heading to a track where its won 3 of the last 4 and 9 of the last 17 races. Gibbs as a whole tends to dominate on short tracks.

JGR driver Kyle Busch is a 4-time Richmond winner, with one of the best marks at the track in series history. However, all 4 of his wins came in the spring race at the track.

Harvick Makes Start #600

Kevin Harvick has won just once this season, at the road course at Watkins Glen, and has only collected 8 playoff points. However, he sits 4th in points, for which he'd receive an additional 7 playoff points, and could potentially move as high as 2nd (he can't drop any lower than 4th).

Harvick will become the 27th driver in series history to make 600 starts when he takes the green flag on Saturday. He could also become the 20th driver with 300 top-10 finishes.

Who's Hot and Who's Not - Darlington Edition

HOT
• Kyle Busch: 4 Richmond wins, 7.3 Avg finish lead all active drivers
• Joey Logano: 7 straight top 10s at Richmond (2 wins)
• Denny Hamlin: finished 6th or better in last 4 Richmond races (18th or worse in previous 5)
• Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 3 career wins at Richmond; 1 of 4 tracks where he's won 3+ times (last win was in 2006)
• Jamie McMurray: 5 top 10s, no finish worse than 16th in last 8 Richmond races
• Brad Keselowski: leads all drivers with 764 laps led in last 8 Richmond races

NOT
• Matt Kenseth: finished 38th and 23rd in last 2 Richmond races (7 top 10s in previous 8 Richmond races)
• Ryan Blaney: finished 28th or worse in all 3 Cup Series starts at Richmond
• Jimmie Johnson: no finish better than 10th in last 12 Cup Series races overall (longest top-5 drought of career)
• Austin Dillon: 1 finish better than 20th (13th) in 7 career Richmond Cup Series starts
• Chase Elliott: 0 top 10s in 4 career Richmond races (tied for his most Cup starts at a track without a top 10)

--- ESPN Stats & Info ---