Playoffs pulse: Stacking the field after Texas

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Playoffs pulse: Stacking the field after Texas


Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Following the eighth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs race, here’s a brief look at the playoffs picture. The 10-race postseason is two races into the Round of 8. There is just one more race before the field is whittled to four, with four drivers eliminated from the postseason following Phoenix (Nov. 11).

Winner

Kevin Harvick earned his fourth career trip to the Championship 4 with a clean sweep at Texas Motor Speedway. The Stewart-Haas Racing veteran had the move of the race, too. On the final restart of a NASCAR Overtime finish, Harvick elected to start on the outside, hit the restart perfectly and powered clear of Ryan Blaney for his eighth win of the season.

MORE: Full race results | Updated standings

Who’s hot

Joey Logano. Forget whatever happened to Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford as the temperatures got cooler. That he finished third one week after winning at Martinsville, on a day where several playoff contenders struggled, shows that this group is a serious threat to win the title. Logano isn’t making many friends by remaining as aggressive as ever on the track, but it’s helping his team round into championship form.

Kurt Busch. In a race in which it seemed nearly every playoff driver had issues, Kurt Busch enjoyed quite a smooth run. His seventh-place finish Sunday at Texas gives him a jolt heading into Phoenix. The only way his day could have been better is if Martin Truex Jr. had stayed a lap down after his pit-road penalty, because it would have significantly cut into the gap on the cutline. As it stands, though, Kurt looks like a threat to win at Phoenix.

Who’s not

Clint Bowyer. Bowyer’s in the “not” column for the second consecutive week, putting him in a must-win situation at Phoenix. Contact on Lap 1 with Denny Hamlin damaged Bowyer’s No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and put him two laps back. While the team confirmed the right rear damage wasn’t fatal to the car, the driver lost an extra lap and couldn’t recover — especially after an over-the-wall penalty with four laps remaining in the second stage.

Kyle Busch. Busch appeared to holler out “oh boy” on the scanner in the middle of Stage 2. In fact, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver felt he had a loose wheel. The vibration got so bad he pitted out of cycle to get new tires as a precautionary measure, but it cost him two laps and any shot at the win, plus the ability to pad his lead entering the Round of 8 finale. Busch’s 17th-place finish is his worst of the year on a 1.5-mile track.

BUBBLE WATCH

Rank Driver Points to cutoff
1. Kevin Harvick WINNER (Texas)
2. Joey Logano WINNER (Martinsville)
3. Kyle Busch +28
4. Martin Truex Jr. +25
————— CUT-OFF LINE —————
5. Kurt Busch -25
6. Chase Elliott -39
7. Aric Almirola -57
8. Clint Bowyer -73

Next race

The Monster Energy Series travels to ISM Raceway at Phoenix for a Sunday race on Nov. 11 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). It is the final race in the Round of 8.

Who it favors

Chase Elliott. Elliott likely needs to win at Phoenix to make the Championship 4, and he appears equipped to do so. His past two trips to the 1-mile track resulted in finishes of second and third; the runner-up showing came last year in the playoffs, and Elliott has shown a knack this year for closing those races out with a win.

Who it hurts

Clint Bowyer. Bowyer’s average finish of 20.7 over the past 10 races at ISM Raceway ranks last among playoff drivers. We understand those results are a little skewed since Bowyer was in the No. 14 Ford for only three of those races, but Bowyer’s career average finish of 18.4 at Phoenix is worse than all but two other tracks in the circuit. His lone top-10 finish during this stretch was earlier this season in the spring, the only bright spot in Bowyer’s recent track history.



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