NASCAR Playoffs in Full Swing
The 2017 NASCAR Playoffs are in full swing, and looming this weekend is perhaps the biggest wild card of the entire post season: Talladega.
After the three Round of 16 races at Chicago, New Hampshire and Dover that saw Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex, Jr. win his fifth race of the season and Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch win for the third and fourth time in back-to-back races, it was the familiar face of Truex back in Victory Lane in the first race of the Round of 12 at Charlotte last weekend.
But when it comes to the 2.66-mile beast of a restrictor-plate race at the famed superspeedway in Alabama this coming Sunday, you might as well throw the favorites out the window, because the checkered flag is basically up for grabs in the unpredictable, high-stakes chess match of plate-track racing.
Of course, there's always an exception to the rule, and this time around, its name is Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Despite currently sitting in last place among the 12 still-playoff-eligible drivers and 72 points off the lead, the fifth-year Cup Series driver for Roush Fenway Racing offers an intriguing storyline in what could shake up the playoff standings in typical unpredictable fashion.
Considering his last-place situation, it's not likely that Stenhouse would advance to the Round of 8 based on the competition ahead of him and his average finish of worse than 20th this season. But here's the catch: Stenhouse has won each of the past two restrictor-plate races this season, including Talladega's spring race back in May.
All of a sudden Stenhouse has a real chance to sneak his way into the next round of the Playoffs by virtue of a victory, leaving only the Kansas Race next Sunday afternoon as the last-chance for drivers like Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, who are currently below the Round of 8 cutoff line, to make up ground in the standings enough to advance.
As it stands right now, Truex is safely into the Round of 8 after his victory in Charlotte last weekend. Kenseth, Keselowski, Blaney and Stenhouse are currently on the outside looking in and would need to catch up in the next two races in order to advance. In between are Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray, who sit in second through eighth place in that order.
But don't expect things to stay like that for long. The difference between victory and defeat and advancing to the next round of the Playoffs or having your championships hopes ruined in the blink of an eye, is razor-thin, and the next two races aren't exactly the most forgiving for drivers teetering on the edge.
The 68-pound Monster Energy NASCAR Cup is still anyone's to win, and it'll be 500 miles of edge-of-your-seat racing in the close quarters of Talladega Superspeedway this weekend, as drivers contend for a shot at the ultimate prize in the NASCAR Playoffs finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway next month.