NASCAR Playoff Preview Heading To The Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVALby Carter Buffkin September 25, 2018 0 comments
Through the first two races of the NASCAR Playoffs, familiar faces find themselves at the top of the standings. Meanwhile, towards the cut-off line for the upcoming Round of 12, some of the teams above, as well as below the bubble line, may strike some fans by surprise based on results throughout the season. As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Charlotte for the first ever trip to the brand-new ROVAL, I’ll run down the current Playoff standings and what trips to Las Vegas and Richmond have done to make or break their run at the season finale at Homestead.
Coming off the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 team win at Richmond on Saturday night, the Las Vegas native has locked himself into the Round of 12. With the next round already in mind, the team can head to the unpredictable Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL and let it all hang out, knowing no matter what happens, the Bank of America ROVAL 400 cannot dictate how the M&M’s Toyota will fare in regards to Championship race in Homestead. With four straight top-10 finishes, including the win at Richmond, the younger Busch appears to be Joe Gibbs Racing’s lone chance at a Championship this season.
Perhaps the hottest driver in the field currently, Brad Keselowski goes into Charlotte with the same luxury as his rival in the No. 18, by being locked in to the Round of 12 based on his win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With three straight wins leading into his ninth-place run in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond, the Team Penske No. 2 Ford team have asserted themselves into the Championship discussion. Appearing to be peaking at the right time, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe have put the NASCAR garage on notice heading into the next round.
Martin Truex Jr.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series defending champion has not yet won a race in the NASCAR Playoffs, but a stellar regular season, as well as two straight third-place finishes have the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota team is locked into the Round of 12 on points. While the Denver, Colorado based organization knows this will be their final season on the track, they’re showing that they still have the consistency to remain a favorite to make it to Championship race at Homestead with a shot at going out on top and repeating as Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions.
While the seven-time winner in 2018 in not officially locked into the Round of 12, you can go ahead and consider the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford team will be there. With a 57-point gap between themselves and the cut line, the Rodney Childers led team should be able to rest easy knowing that barring an incredible turn of events in Charlotte this weekend, they will be going into Dover in two weeks firmly locked into the next round. With a strong second-place finish at Richmond, Harvick appears to have left the memory of the prior week’s 39th-place finish in Las Vegas in the past and is looking ahead to his second-career championship at NASCAR’s top level.
With a second-place effort in Las Vegas, followed up with a 12th-place run at Richmond, Logano finds himself fifth in the NASCAR Playoff standings with a 25-point gap. While not showing quite the strength as his Team Penske teammate Keselowski as of late, three of his last five starts have resulted in a top-five finish. If crew chief Todd Gordon has any tricks up his sleeve, it’s not out of line to think Logano could give Roger Penske a one-two punch going into Homestead.
For the second time in his career, Aric Almirola is in the Playoffs with a contending team, and he is making the most of it. In his first year with Stewart-Haas Racing, the Tampa native has taken the No. 10 Ford to the NASCAR Playoffs, and as of Richmond, he carried it to sixth in the standings, 23 points from the Round of 12 cut off. With fifth, and sixth place finishes to start the Playoffs, Almirola hopes to continue the consistency, and to extend his second Playoff appearance into his home state of Florida come November.
Seventh in the standings, Chip Ganassi Racing’s lone entry into the 2018 NASCAR Playoffs appears to be getting hot at the right time. With the three top-five finishes in the last five races, the No. 42 Chevy is yet to find a win, but is keeping the car in contention to win on a weekly basis. A seventh-place finish at Richmond, following a second-place run in Las Vegas, puts the Californian ahead of the Round of 12 bubble by 17 points.
Not exactly sharing the success of his younger brother at the top of the standings, Kurt Busch is a prime example of how valuable Playoff points from the regular season can be. With his lone win at Bristol in August among his eight-straight top-10 finishes leading into the NASCAR Playoffs, the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 team has struggled to maintain those results, finishing 21st and 18th since the Postseason races began. That win, along with his accumulated Playoff points from the regular season, may serve as a Round of 12 mulligan for the 2004 champion, as he sits eighth in the standings ahead of the bubble by 15 points.
Following a disastrous 36th -place finish to start the Playoffs in Las Vegas, Hendrick Motorsports’ top team rebounded at Richmond with a strong fourth-place run. With six of seven races leading into the Playoffs resulting in at least a top-10 finish, including his first-career win at Watkins Glen International, the incident to start the Round of 16 doesn’t appear to have thrown the No. 9 Chevrolet team off of their game. At ninth position in the Playoff standings, Elliott is 10 points ahead of the points cut off.
Tied with Chase Elliott ahead of the cut line by 10 points, the Daytona 500 team has found themselves in good place going into Charlotte, much to the surprise of the fans. Following the win to start the season to lock the No. 3 Chevrolet team into the Playoffs, the team saw only three more top-10 finishes between then, and the start of the 10-race postseason. With finishes of 11th, and sixth to start the Round of 16, it’s obvious Richard Childress Racing is going all-in with their lone Playoff car.
Only five points ahead of the Playoff curve, the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet team cannot afford a slip-up at the ROVAL in Charlotte. While Bowman has had a consistent first-season with his new team at nine top-ten finishes, only one of those has come in the last seven races. Even if Bowman can make it through unscathed to the Round of 12, they’ll need better results moving forward if they plan to move on to the later rounds.
Making his second-career appearance in the NASCAR Playoffs, inconsistent results continue to be a factor in the young driver’s first season in the Team Penske No. 12 Ford. Following up his fifth-place effort at Las Vegas, with a 19th-place finish in Richmond, Blaney finds himself holding the last cut-off spot, by a slim four points. While a good finish Sunday in Charlotte could very well push the team into the Round of 12, a mishap at the new track could set the end of their Championship hopes.
OUTSIDE OF THE BUBBLE
Only four points out of the top-12, hope is not yet gone for the final Stewart-Haas Racing team in the standings. While Bowyer saw a career resurgence of types this season with two wins, Playoff race finishes of 23rd and 10th have put the No. 14 Ford team in a hole. With one road course win in his career, Clint will need a strong run at NASCAR’s newest road course to push him over the four-point gap that separates them from their Championship hopes.
Continuing a season full of career lows, the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion struggled to find success at Las Vegas, digging into a hole with a 22nd-place finish. While Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus rebounded at Richmond with an eighth-place finish, the lack of Playoff points gained throughout the regular season could end up being the downfall run at an eighth NASCAR championship. At only six points off of the bubble, the Hendrick No. 48 Chevrolet team will need to put together a strong run in Charlotte.
The first bit of noise of the Playoffs was when Erik Jones put the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota on the pole at Las Vegas to start the Round of 16. That all changed in one quick incident, that settled Jones with a 40th-place finish. With an 11th-place follow up at Richmond, the Joe Gibbs Racing team finds themselves 21 points away from the cut line into the Round of 12. They will need a strong run, along with some help around Jones gain ground in the standings Sunday. Otherwise, the only road to the Round of 12 for the Michigan native seems to be through Victory Lane in Charlotte.
Like his teammate Erik Jones, Hamlin finds himself needing help Sunday in Charlotte if he wants to make it into the next round of the NASCAR Playoffs. Following an accident related 32nd-place finish in Las Vegas and a struggling 16th-place finish at Richmond, the No. 11 Toyota team sits at the bottom of the Playoff standings, 29 points out of the Round of 12 cut off. While there is little chance Hamlin could find his way in, Hamlin can break his way in to the next round by being the first driver conquer Charlotte Motor Speedway’s new ROVAL course.
The Bank of America ROVAL 400 will broadcast live on NBC and the Performance Racing Network (PRN) at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 30.