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Dover: What to Watch For...Cool Stats and lots of 'em

Playoff Format Explainer
- Now known as "playoffs" (term "Chase" was dropped)
- Full field will still run all 10 races (playoff and non-playoff drivers together)
- Points are reset to 2,000 at start of playoffs (3,000 after 3rd race; 4,000 after 6th race) with playoff points added at start of each round
- Drivers continue earning playoff points that are added to regular season total and added at start of each stage
- Drivers advance to next round with win (if they haven't already been eliminated)
- Bottom 4 drivers are eliminated after 3rd, 6th and 9th races
- Highest finisher among "Championship 4" drivers in finale at Homestead will win championship


Who's Hot and Who's Not - Dover (Playoff Driver Edition)
HOT
- Jimmie Johnson: 11 Cup Series wins at Dover (1 of 3 drivers in series history with at least 11 wins at a track)
- Chase Elliott: top-5 finishes in all 3 career races at Dover; seeking to become 5th driver to have top-5 finish in 1st 4 career Dover races (joining Richard Petty, Tony Stewart, Davey Allison, Bobby Allison)
- Kyle Busch: finished 2nd in last 2 playoff races at Dover (wrecked out of 3 of last 4 spring races at track)
- Kyle Larson: finished 2nd at Dover earlier this season and last week at New Hampshire; 12 top-2 finishes this season is T-4th most in a season in playoff era (since 2004)
- Martin Truex Jr.: led more than 100 laps in last 2 and 3 of last 5 Dover races
- Kevin Harvick: leads all drivers with 810 laps led at Dover since start of 2014 (no other driver has more than 467)

NOT
- Ryan Blaney: finished 38th and 32nd in last 2 Dover races
- Kurt Busch: 1 top-10 finish in 11 Dover races since winning 2011 playoff race at track
- Jamie McMurray: 11th in playoff standings; has been eliminated in Round of 16 in both career playoff appearances
- Kasey Kahne: 1 top-20 finish in last 6 races (12th at Richmond); no top-10 finishes in 8 races since Indianapolis win
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: no top-10 finishes in 11 races since winning at Daytona in July


1. First Playoff Eliminations This Week
After Sunday's race at Dover, the Cup Series playoff field will have the bottom 4 drivers eliminated. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is currently ahead of Austin Dillon for the final spot based on a tiebreaker. Notably outside looking in is 2017 Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch. Any playoff driver will automatically advance with a win.

Sunday Scenarios - NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs
- 4 drivers have clinched spots in Round of 12
- Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski
- Any playoff driver moves on with Dover win, regardless of points

Races are split into 3 stages, with points awarded to the top 10 after the 1st 2 (on a 10-1 scale), and then full race points awarded after the final stage. 2,100 points will clinch a spot in the Round of 12, regardless of what any other driver does. Taking out the stage points, here's what drivers need to do to clinch a spot in the next round.

Finish Needed to Clinch Advancing - Regardless of Stage Finish
5. Denny Hamlin 25th
6. Matt Kenseth 24th
7. Jimmie Johnson 13th
8. Ryan Blaney 7th
9. Chase Elliott 8th
10. Kevin Harvick 6th
>>Drivers 11th-16th need win or finish with additional stage points to clinch

Don't be surprised to see a big name go home early, in each year of this playoff format, a notable driver has been eliminated in the 1st Round. Jamie McMurray, currently 11th, will try to overcome history, he's been eliminated in the Round of 16 in each of the last 2 seasons.

Notable Drivers Eliminated in 1st Round - Each Year With Format
2014 Kurt Busch
2015 Jimmie Johnson
2016 Kyle Larson


2. Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. Have Dominated Playoffs
Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch have won the 1st 2 races of this year's playoffs, locking in their spots in the Round of 12, and they've done it in dominant fashion. Last week at New Hampshire, the 2 combined to lead 299 of a possible 300 laps as Busch won, and Truex came back from being involved in a wreck to finish 5th.

It's not surprising, given how the season's gone. Truex Jr. leads the series with 1,835 laps led this season, Kyle Busch is 2nd with 1,621. Nobody else has more than 1,000. It's just the 3rd time since 2000 that multiple drivers have led more than 1,600 laps in a season, along with 2013 (Jimmie Johnson/Matt Kenseth) and 2008 (Kyle Busch/Jimmie Johnson). It's no surprise these two are the runaway favorites to win the championship.

Favorites to Win MENCS Title - According to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
Martin Truex Jr. 7-4
Kyle Busch 2-1
Kyle Larson 5-1
Denny Hamlin 10-1
Kevin Harvick 15-1
Jimmie Johnson 15-1
Brad Keselowski 15-1

If Truex Jr. or Busch wins, it'll be the 6th time a driver has opened the playoffs by winning 2 of the 1st 3 races. But only 2 of the 5 times it's happened, the driver went on to win the championship. Truex Jr. did it last year, but was eliminated in the Round of 12.

Won 2 of 1st 3 Playoffs Races - Since Playoffs Began in 2004
Points Finish
2016 Martin Truex Jr. 11th
2013 Matt Kenseth 2nd
2012 Brad Keselowski 1st
2011 Tony Stewart 1st
2008 Greg Biffle 3rd


3. Johnson Looks to Make it a Dover Dozen
Jimmie Johnson has finished 14th and 8th in the first 2 playoff races, extending his top-5 drought to 15 races, easily the longest streak of his Cup Series career. He's on pace to have the worst season of his Cup career.

Jimmie Johnson - 2017 Cup Series Season
2017 Career Worst
Top 5 pct 10.7 16.7 (2002)
Top 10 pct 32.1 44.4 (2016)
Avg finish 16.3 15.3 (2014)

But if there's anywhere he can snap this streak, it's Dover, where Johnson has won a track-record 11 times. Not only is that the most among active drivers at a track, but he's 1 of just 3 drivers to ever win 11 times at a single track.

Most Wins at a Track - NASCAR Cup Series History
Richard Petty Martinsville 15
Richard Petty North Wilkesboro 15
Richard Petty Richmond 13
Darrell Waltrip Bristol 12
Jimmie Johnson Dover 11
Darrell Waltrip Martinsville 11
Richard Petty Rockingham 11

Johnson won at Dover earlier this season, but it wasn't a dominating victory. Johnson led only 7 laps, the 3rd-fewest by a winner in 95 Cup Series races at the track all-time.

Fewest Laps Led by Dover Winner - NASCAR Cup Series History
2013 Tony Stewart 3
2006 Jeff Burton 6
2017 >>Jimmie Johnson 7
1998 Dale Jarrett 8
>>Averaged 208 laps led in other 10 Dover wins
>>>In 95 races at track


4. Kurt Busch Going From Daytona 500 Champ to Eliminated?
Kurt Busch heads to Dover sitting 15th in the playoff standings, and could be heading home without a good finish and some help. This is the 4th year with the elimination format in the playoffs, and the Daytona 500 winner has yet to make it to the Championship Round in any of those years.

Daytona 500 Winner in Playoffs - Last 5 Seasons
Result
2017 Kurt Busch ?
2016 Denny Hamlin Eliminated in Round of 8
2015 Joey Logano Eliminated in Round of 8
2014 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Eliminated in Round of 12
2013 Jimmie Johnson >>Won Championship
>>Final season before elimination format

Best Avg Finish in Final 5 Races - 2017 Regular Season
Playoff Pts Rank
Erik Jones 5.2 >>N/A
Kurt Busch 5.8 15th
Kyle Busch 5.8 2nd
Denny Hamlin 5.8 5th
>>Missed playoffs

--- ESPN Research & Stats ---