NASCAR Cup 2017: Breaking down the second round playoffs grid

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The quarterfinal round of 12 has a different dynamic in 2017, and it’s not just because of the playoff points that drivers carry into the three-race stretch of Charlotte-Talladega-Kansas.

With Talladega as the middle race instead of the final one, drivers won’t have the option to lay back and try to avoid an accident because they can’t count on getting through Kansas without trouble. The stage points also could matter in the final tally when the four winless drivers in the round who are worst in the standings end up being eliminated.

Playoff points likely will matter. Martin Truex Jr. already has nearly a one full race edge in points on the driver currently ninth in the standings.

How they stack up entering the round:

1. Martin Truex Jr.

Team: Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota

First-round wins: 1

First-round points: 2,199 (1st)

Playoff points: 59

Why he will advance: Have you watched any of the races this year? Anyone who has knows Truex will advance because he has consistently been the best. Having a 51-point edge on ninth in the standings helps, too. A lot.

Why he won’t: With Talladega in the round, a crash (or as he learned last year, an engine failure) could cost him if he doesn’t perform well enough at Charlotte and Kansas.

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  • 2. Kyle Busch

    Team: Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota

    First-round wins: 2

    First-round points: 2,175 (2nd)

    Playoff points: 41

    Why he will advance: He had finishes of second, third and fifth earlier this year at Charlotte, Talladega and Kansas. He’s the only driver to have top-5s in all three of those races this year as teams get ready to return for the next round.

    Why he won’t: He has never won at Charlotte (the only track on the circuit where he hasn’t won) and has just one win apiece at Talladega and Kansas. Among the 23 tracks on the circuit, these tracks rank toward the bottom for Busch: Charlotte (average finish of 15.0, 15th among the 23 tracks), Kansas (17.7, 19th), and Talladega (20.5, 23rd).

    3. Kyle Larson

    Team: Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet

    First-round wins: 0

    First-round points: 2,172 (3rd)

    Playoff points: 34

    Why he will advance: He’s solid on the intermediate tracks, where he loves to get up near the wall to make speed.

    Why he won’t: He loves to get up near the wall — and sometimes gets into the wall — and that could ruin his day.

    4. Brad Keselowski

    Team: Team Penske No. 2 Ford

    First-round wins: 0

    First-round points: 2,146 (4th)

    Playoff points: 20

    Why he will advance: He’ll do enough to make it on points, and he is one of the best restrictor-plate racers out there.

    Why he won’t: The team’s lack of speed finally catches up to it.

    5. Jimmie Johnson

    Team: Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet

    First-round wins: 0

    First-round points: 2,116 (6th)

    Playoff points: 17

    Why he will advance: He has a combined 13 career victories on the tracks in this round.

    Why he won’t: His mediocre qualifying will result in fewer stage points, making the difference.

    6. Kevin Harvick

    Team: Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford

    First-round wins: 0

    First-round points: 2,092 (9th)

    Playoff points: 15

    Why he will advance: He should finish top-10 at Charlotte and Kansas, and that will be enough to get out of this round.

    Why he won’t: Happy hasn’t been so happy with the team’s inability to avoid mistakes.

    7. Denny Hamlin

    Team: Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota

    First-round wins: 0

    First-round points: 2,096 (8th)

    Playoff points: 13

    Why he will advance: The Toyotas are much better now than when he finished 23rd at Kansas earlier this year.

    Why he won’t: Getting the Toyotas to work together at Talladega might be a chore, considering four of them are still alive in the playoffs.

    8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

    Team: Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford

    First-round wins: 0

    First-round points: 2,069 (12th)

    Playoff points: 10

    Why he will advance: He’s won the last two restrictor-plate races. Win and in.

    Why he won’t: If he doesn’t win at Talladega, he’ll likely need other drivers to have trouble for him to have a shot by points. His opening-round finishes of 25th, 15th and 19th don’t suggest a strong Charlotte and Kansas.

    9. Ryan Blaney

    Team: Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford

    First-round wins: 0

    First-round points: 2,084 (10th)

    Playoff points: 8

    Why he will advance: Blaney went about his business in the first round doing what he had to do and comfortably advanced. This time, it might not be so comfortable, but the round ends at a place where he finished fourth in the spring.

    Why he won’t: He hasn’t earned enough playoff points to give him any cushion for a bad race.

    10. Chase Elliott

    Team: Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet

    First-round wins: 0

    First-round points: 2,117 (5th)

    Playoff points: 6

    Why he will advance: The only way to discard the sour taste of the Dover finish is to keep running up front and leading laps.

    Why he won’t: He’s responded well after tough losses before, so that won’t be a problem. But the overall speed of the organization on intermediate tracks is more of a concern.

    11. Matt Kenseth

    Team: Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota

    First-round wins: 0

    First-round points: 2,113 (7th)

    Playoff points: 5

    Why he will advance: The 2003 Cup champion knows how to get it done when it is on the line.

    Why he won’t: A poor performance last week at Dover will start eating away at this team with Kenseth (and possibly crew chief Jason Ratcliff) out the JGR door after this season.

    12. Jamie McMurray

    Team: Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet

    First-round wins: 0

    First-round points: 2,083 (11th)

    Playoff points: 3

    Why he will advance: These are all solid tracks for McMurray, and he has had some of his biggest career wins at Charlotte and Talladega.

    Why he won’t: He must be mistake-free, and most teams end up making mistakes with that scenario in front of them.


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