The round of 16 of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs came to an end when Kyle Larson won the playoff cut line at Charlotte Roval on October 10th.
NASCAR released the updated ranking based on the Bank of America Roval 400 and confirmed that Larson is 42 points ahead at the start of the round of eight. The next driver in the overall standings is Denny Hamlin, the winner of two playoff races. However, the veteran of Joe Gibbs Racing is still 35 points behind Larson. Martin Truex Jr. (+6) and Ryan Blaney (+1) are the two remaining drivers above the cutline.
While Truex is the only former Cup Series champion above the cutline, there are four to make up ground during the round of eight. Two-time champion Kyle Busch, defending champion Chase Elliott, 2018 champion Joey Logano, and 2012 champion Brad Keselowski all sit behind on the way to Texas Motor Speedway.
The eighth lap consists of three races. The Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 will take place in Texas on October 17th, the Hollywood Casino 400 will take drivers to Kansas Speedway on October 24th, and the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 31st will crown the round of 16. After completing these three races, only four drivers will be eligible for the championship trophy and will leave for Phoenix Raceway on November 7th.
After the first round of 12 races – the South Point 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Keselowski had to make up a few points. He was only four points above the cutting line. He achieved this goal with second place in the YellaWood 500 on the Talladega Superspeedway.
That finish gave Keselowski a 20-point cushion towards Charlotte Roval that kept him alive in the playoffs on a tough day on the track. The 2012 Cup Series champion finished 20th after a race in which he spun twice. once with help in the chicane – and fell below the cutting line several times.
Keselowski spent most of the day running outside of the top 20. He had to fight his way back and damage control for most of the race, but he still finished the day over the finish line while four other riders saw their championship dreams come to an end.
“It wasn’t nice, but the team did an excellent job helping me fight my way through, which was really nice,” Keselowski told NBC Sports after the race. “It was a really frustrating day, but we have built up enough cushion in Talladega to be able to afford a hard little day and get through it.”
The driver of the No. 12 team Penske Ford Mustang turned the best season of his career in 2021. He’s already tied his top 18 top-10 finishes in his career, and he’s just a top-five less than 11 for the third straight season. More importantly, Blaney made it to Victory Lane three times after winning just once from 2017 to 2020.
YRB (Young Ryan Blaney) cracked his ticket to the March 21 playoffs by winning the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He then added more playoff points to his total by winning consecutive wins in Michigan (Aug. 22) and Daytona (Aug. 28). Now he’s one point above the cutline with three races to further strengthen the best year of his career.
Blaney has already entered the playoffs four times, but he never made it to the championship race. He made it to the round of 16 in 2017 and 2019, but only made it to the round of 16 in 2018. The 2020 playoffs were a low point for Blaney’s post-season career as he failed to progress from the round of 16.
Blaney will now be battling for a place in the championship race on three tracks that he has never won. However, he has several top five on his name. That list includes three on Texas Motor Speedway, three on Kansas Speedway, and five on Martinsville Speedway. The short track in Virginia in particular served as the venue for the successive runner-up championships in 2020.
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