Kurt Busch knows that he’s advancing onto the Round of 8 by virtue of his Vegas win. Kevin Harvick (+61) and Denny Hamlin (+58) now look to be joining him too. They have a mulligan left in them, but if they just play it safe at Talladega on Sunday afternoon, they’ll be good to have an easy race on the ROVAL next week.
Everyone else is nervous though. Brad Keselowski went from +30 to +16 after Race 1 the Round of 12. Martin Truex Jr. gained four points from +11 to just +15. Joey Logano went from +17 to +11 while Chase Elliott dropped from +16 to +10.
I think all four of them expected to be further up from the bubble leaving Vegas. Instead, they head to Talladega to where they could easily drop out of the top eight of the standings too.
Alex Bowman holds the final spot at +9 over Kyle Busch. This is now really a fight among those nine with Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Austin Dillon (-32) all likely having to dominate the final four stages and maybe even steal a win.
Busch, hasn’t won since last year’s season finale. Bowyer, hasn’t won in his last 87 starts now (6/10/2018). Almirola, hasn’t won since Talladega in 2018 (71 starts) either. Dillon, won at Texas back in June, so he’s the only one in the bottom five to have won recently.
The question is though, can anyone of those four out get back in?
Busch, is the best bet with seven top seven finishes in his last 10 starts including a top seven in all four playoff races. But, Bowman has five top 10’s in his last six starts on the year too. Plus, Bowman was seventh this past spring in Talladega and has three top eight’s in his last five ‘Dega starts overall. On top of that, he was fourth and second in his two ROVAL tries.
Busch meanwhile, has just two top fives as both are his only top 10’s since 2014 at Talladega. His two ROVAL starts saw him finish 32nd and 37th respectively.
Then you have Bowyer who has one top five since 2014 at Talladega himself. He does have six top six finishes in his last nine road course starts though. By that point, is it win or go home?
Almirola, is at his best at Talladega and not so much on road courses. Same for Dillon. Next week may be must wins for them.
Elliott and Truex are the opposite. They’re so good on road courses, not so much on superspeedway’s. But, their gaps may be enough due to how everyone else behind them runs on these tracks.
What about Truex, Hamlin and Harvick in terms of stage points? Do they elect to be aggressive and risk a crash to score them early without knowing what can happen later? Or, do they give them up to keep it conservative and ride around in the back in order to be there in the end?