On the Outside Looking In
There are just two races to go in until the MENCS Playoff. Here is a reminder of the format:
• 16 drivers will make playoffs
• Criteria to make field: wins, then top winless drivers in points to complete field
• Drivers earn points to start playoffs based on race wins, stage wins and regular-season points finish
With only two races remaining until the Playoff, who will crash the playoff party? Probably... no one.
The five drivers immediately outside the the playoffs have combined for six top-five finishes this season. None of them have won a race since Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s victory at Daytona in July of last year.
Drivers will be sporting some throwback paint schemes for the race at "The Lady in Black". The Cup Series began racing at the South Carolina in 1950 and has only been racing at Martinsville longer. Most of the drivers hope to throw it back to a time when Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. weren't so dominate.
That trio has combined to win 17 of the 24 races this season. As a result, there could be the fewest amount of winners entering the playoff since it was instituted in 2004.
Kevin Harvick can join Kyle Busch (in 2008) as the only drivers to win eight races prior to the Playoff. But regular season wins haven't always equated to playoff success in the history of the playoff system. Jimmie Johnson in 2007 is the only driver to win at least six races prior to the Playoff and go on to win the title.
JGR loves Darlington
Joe Gibbs Racing has won five of the last 10 races at Darlington, including Denny Hamlin last year.
Hamlin is yet to win in 2018 but if he were to win anywhere, it would be Darlington. He's a two-time winner at the track, and no driver who has made more than two starts at the track has a better average finish than Hamlin's 5.4 mark.
Another JGR driver, Kyle Busch, is making his fourthattempt to pick up his 50th career win at Darlington, where he won in 2008.
Busch could become the 13th driver overall to hit the 50-win mark, and he'd be the fourth to do it before turning 34.
Denny Hamlin (Gibbs): 5.8 Avg finish at Darlington is the best among drivers with more than 2 starts at the track all-time
Kyle Busch (Gibbs): tied career-high with 17 top-5 finishes this season
Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas): 5 straight top-10 finishes at Darlington (5 in first 16 career starts at track)
Erik Jones (Gibbs): 7.2 average finish in last 9 races overall (2nd-best in MENCS, behind Kevin Harvick)
Chase Elliott (Hendrick): 5 straight top-10 finishes overall; one off longest streak of career (set in 2016)
Ryan Blaney (Penske): finished 30th or worse in 2 of 3 career Darlington races (13th in other)
Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick): finished 19th, 33rd, 12th in last 3 Darlington races (finished 1st, 4th and 3rd in previous 3)
Brad Keselowski (Penske); 15.3 average finish this season; would be his worst since 2010 (first full season in Cup)
Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas): Never had a top-10 finish in 6 career races at Darlington
--- ESPN Stats & Info ---