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Bump & Run: How many Cup drivers will make playoffs via points?

Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson are the drivers, outside the Big 3, most likely to win a race before the playoffs start.

Three drivers are guaranteed to make the playoffs by points. How many of the 16 teams will end up making the playoffs by points?

Kyle Petty: I believe we’ll have one more race winner before the playoffs. Everyone else gets invited on points (eight).

Nate Ryan: Eight (three more than the previous high of five in 2015).

Dustin Long: Seven. I think there will be two more different winners.

Dan Beaver: I’ll go with seven. There is a good possibility one of the next two races will be won by the “Others” and someone else will successfully gamble on strategy before the playoffs begin.

Not including the Big 3 of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., who is one driver you see as on the rise and one who is on the decline with six races left until the playoffs begin?

Kyle Petty: Tough question. I honestly don’t see any one driver on the rise or in decline. We have the Big 3 and then everyone else. Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano — they’ve all risen to the occasion at some point this year only to fade back into the field. The gap between the Big 3 and everyone else may be insurmountable this year.

Nate Ryan: Kurt Busch quietly has led five of the past six races (while winning two pole positions) and is emerging as a dark horse for a deep run into the playoffs.

Dustin Long: I like some of the runs Aric Almirola has had in recent races. Just need to clean up some issues to get a win. Denny Hamlin noted before New Hampshire that he’s gone through one of the toughest stretches of his career with recent performances and then he was a non-factor at New Hampshire. This group needs to step up.

Dan Beaver: Last week’s performance was disappointing, but Erik Jones is on the rise with four consecutive top 10s prior to New Hampshire. Clint Bowyer has finished outside that mark in seven of his last 11 races. The other finishes were top fives, which might suggest the team is experimenting, but that will catch up with him I the long run.

Who is your pick for the next driver without a win to score a victory?

Kyle Petty: Kyle Larson

Nate Ryan: It’s still just a matter of time for Kyle Larson, especially with Michigan looming.

Dustin Long: Brad Keselowski. Think he could do it in the next couple of weeks.

Dan Beaver: The next two weeks are well-suited for a new winner. Pocono is often determined by strategy. For that matter, and Ryan Blaney has the ability to win on speed. Watkins Glenis another wild card that will give Kurt Busch a great opportunity to win.