25 points. That’s the difference between the first driver, or drivers in this sense, out and the last driver in for the NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings right now. We’re down to the last race in the Round of 8 and the final two races in the 2020 NASCAR season at that. Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN) at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway will set the Championship 4 field for next Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series title showdown.
We know one driver will be in it with Joey Logano’s win in the opening race of the third round a couple of weeks ago in Kansas. But, with Kyle Busch’s win on Thursday night in Texas, that means we still have three spots available heading to Sunday’s penultimate race of the season.
Who gets them?
25 points is the differential right now, meaning that more than likely, if someone is going to get themselves from the outside looking in, they’ll have to do so with a walkoff victory on Sunday afternoon on the Virginia short track.
Kevin Harvick is +42 right now and I think can easily skate by. But, there’s also a path to where he doesn’t though too. Harvick, only has two top five finishes in his last 16 Martinsville starts and was only 15th this past June. He’s only 17 points ahead of Brad Keselowski in fourth, so his path to falling out would be to score few stage points, fall to fourth and someone outside looking in winning.
Denny Hamlin is +27 entering Sunday’s race with Keselowski +25. Hamlin, has three top five finishes in his last four Martinsville starts but was only 20th in June. Keselowski, has nine straight top 10’s on the .526-mile paperclip including eight of those nine in the top five. He was third in this race last year and third in June.
These three are going to be tough to beat on points for anyone below right now still. But, they also may have opened the door for someone else to win though too.
Harvick and Hamlin would be shocked if they get bumped out, but they also know that it could very well happen too.
Harvick, only has four top five finishes in his last 10 starts on the season. Three of those are wins. He’s not likely winning on Sunday. Hamlin, has one win in the last 10 starts himself and just three top five’s in that same time frame. Keselowski, also only has one win in that 10 race span and just two top fives in his last 13 starts.
Do any of them reach victory lane on Sunday?
The door may be open for someone like Alex Bowman (-25), Chase Elliott (-25), Martin Truex Jr. (-36) or Kurt Busch (-81) to steal a win and get in.
But, Busch only has two top five finishes in his last 17 starts in 2020 and only four top 10’s in his last 28 starts at Martinsville. He’s not had a top five there since his win in the spring of 2014.
“It’s not one of my best tracks, but the Ganassi cars, since I’ve been driving for them, I’ve been better on my results at Martinsville,” said Busch. “We’ll see how it plays out. We’re going to be elbows out, not afraid to rub, and hopefully, we can be in the right spot.”
Bowman, has two career top 10’s at Martinsville and no top fives. But, he does have eight top 10’s in his last 10 starts on the season and a pair of top fives in as many races in the Round of 8 though.
“Martinsville has been very hit and miss for me,” said Bowman. “I feel like we need to go there and win.
“Obviously, it can happen (on points) — some guys can have some really bad days, but we need to go win. It’s a place where I have some things I feel I have some things to learn, and our short track program has been improving a bunch, but it’s still a little short.
“But we just needed to run better throughout the year. We did a phenomenal job the last two months. We’ve been as good as anybody the last two months. But, those summer months when you need to be accumulating playoff points, we were struggling. Really proud of my team and the race cars they’re bringing right now; it’s just we needed to be doing it all year.”
Elliott, has five top 10’s in his last seven Martinsville starts, four of which in his last five. He also has five top seven finishes in his last seven starts of 2020.
“For us, we need to go win, and that’s really kind of the bottom line,” said Elliott. “I’m not even going to look at the points because it really just doesn’t matter. If you can’t win races and win them consistently in this series, then you’re not going to win the championship anyway. We need to go there with the mindset of trying to win and put ourselves in the best position to do that, and be comfortable in it, and hope things go our way.”
Truex, has won the last two races at Martinsville.
To me, the door is open for Truex more than the others.
“I mean, a must-win at any track, no matter how good you’ve been there in the past, I think is a challenge,” Truex said of this weekend. “The last race there that we ran and delete all the laps that we did, whatever, it’s no guarantee. We’ve got to work hard this week to make sure we’re prepared. I know the guys have already been doing that. So definitely optimistic. It’s a good track for us, but it’s a short track and a lot can happen on restarts and things.
“We’ll go there and do the best job we can.”
JGR and Penske have won six of the last seven Martinsville Cup races and took four of the top five finishing spots in each of the last three Martinsville races including a 1-2-3-4 effort in June.
Can Truex get to victory lane on Sunday and take a spot away from Harvick, Hamlin and Keselowski. If so, who falls out?
These bottom four know that they need to win to get in. Why stress over points. None of them are thinking points anymore. It’s all about winning.
Truex, hasn’t won since this track in June. His last win prior to that was this race last year. Bowman, hasn’t won since March 1. Busch and Elliott each won in the Round of 12.
I’ll take Truex for the win though and Hamlin falling out now by virtue of Keselowski finishing ahead of Hamlin during Sunday’s race.