Playoffs pulse: Stacking the field after Richmond

After the second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs race, here’s a brief look at the playoffs picture. There is one race remaining in the Round of 16 before the field is whittled to 12, with four drivers eliminated from the postseason following Charlotte (Sept. 30).

Winner

Kyle Busch won at Richmond Raceway, clinching a spot in the Round of 12. The win also gives him five playoff points to add to his total, which now sits at 55.

Who’s hot

Martin Truex Jr. Truex Jr. may have had the best car on the track, but was mired in traffic following a pit-road penalty. Still, the Furniture Row Racing driver trucked forward for a third-place finish after winning Stage 1 and Stage 2. He clinched a spot in the Round of 12 on points.

Chase Elliott. Elliott led 34 laps, and his No. 9 Chevrolet was dialed-in. Following a wreck not of his doing at Las Vegas, Elliott had the poise of a veteran in delivering a fourth-place finish to work himself back above the cutoff line in what was an excellent night for the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

Aric Almirola. Almirola had an out-of-nowhere fifth-place finish that puts him in a good spot heading into the Charlotte road course. The No. 10 Ford was fast and smooth all night, and Almirola — winless so far this year — sits above several drivers with wins this season after the first two playoff races.

Who’s not

Joey Logano. An uncontrolled tire penalty put Logano a lap down at Richmond, and the No. 22 team didn’t recover. The 14th-place finish, one lap down, is especially painful at a track in which both driver and team typically excel.

Denny Hamlin. Richmond is one of Hamlin’s best tracks, and despite qualifying second, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver fell through the field quickly. An inadvertent shot from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in Stage 1 didn’t help — and in fact set the tone for a bad evening — but something bigger remains off with the No. 11 team. He finished one lap down at Richmond.

Ryan Blaney. This isn’t one of Blaney’s better tracks, and it showed Saturday night. The Team Penske driver was fighting to stay on the lead lap as the race unfolded, and he’s firmly on the bubble heading into the Charlotte road course.

BUBBLE WATCH

Rank Driver Points to cutoff
5. Joey Logano +25
6. Aric Almirola +23
7. Kyle Larson +17
8. Kurt Busch +15
9. Chase Elliott +10
10. Austin Dillon +10
11. Alex Bowman +5
12. Ryan Blaney +4
————— CUT-OFF LINE —————
13. Clint Bowyer -4
14. Jimmie Johnson -6
15. Erik Jones -21
16. Denny Hamlin -29

Next race

The Monster Energy Series travels to Charlotte Motor Speedway for a Sunday race on Sept. 30 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). It is the final race in the Round of 16.

Who it favors/hurts

Who knows? The Charlotte road course is brand new and so unlike any other track on the schedule, it’s impossible to figure who is going to run well and who is not. It’s part of what makes next weekend’s race one of the most anticipated of the season, and why it truly is anyone’s race to win — the perfect setting for an elimination race to conclude the Round of 16.

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