Examining the elite eight in Cup playoffs
It’s on to Kansas for teams and the beginning of the Round of 8 in the Cup playoffs.
Title favorites Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin remain in good position to advance to the championship race Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway. Harvick, the regular-season champion, leads the points heading into Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). Hamlin, second in points, has won the past two Kansas races, including the July event. Harvick and Hamlin have combined to win 16 of the 32 races run this season.
Chase Elliott, who won last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval, enters this round holding the final transfer spot. He leads Joey Logano by five points, Martin Truex Jr. by 10 points, Alex Bowman by 18 points and Kurt Busch by 21 points.
The eight remaining playoff drivers have combined to win 28 of 32 races this season.
The Round of 8 in the Cup playoffs features races at Kansas, Texas and Martinsville. NASCAR has raced at all three tracks this season.
Here is a look at each of the eight playoff drivers
Points: 4067 (1st)
Wins in playoffs: 2 (Darlington and Bristol)
Points scored in playoffs: 223 (2nd)
Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 935 (3rd)
July Kansas finish: 4th (42 points)
July Texas finish: 5th (46 points)
June Martinsville finish: 15th (31 points)
Notable: Seeks to make championship race for fourth consecutive year and sixth time in seven years.
Quote: “There’s really no change for us. We’ve been here, done this. We know what’s in front of us. You go and prepare and that’s why we’ve stuck with the attitude of trying to playoff race every week and the expectation is to go out and be competitive and if you’re not, come home and figure out why and try to address it and move on to the next one. It’s survive and advance at this particular point.”
Points: 4054 (2nd)
Wins in playoffs: 1 (Talladega)
Points scored in playoffs: 206 (5th)
Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 664 (6th)
July Kansas finish: 1st (56 points)
July Texas finish: 20th (25 points)
June Martinsville finish: 24th (13 points)
Notable: Has won the past two Kansas races. Also is only driver to win more than once on a 1.5-mile track this season.
Quote: “In years past, Kansas has not always been a strong suit. Mile-and-a-halves in general haven’t been a super strong suit for most of career. You could argue the statistics and wins would say otherwise, but it seems like on the mile-and-a-halves we’ve got a really good package or setup going that seems to be working. We nearly won Vegas, and that was the track that – if we could finish in the top 15, I was going to be happy. I adjust my expectations based on how I feel after the first 10 laps of the race. I’m confident. I feel like we’ve got a good grasp on Kansas. Nothing really much has changed other than the tire, which that tire was run at Vegas, so it looks like we’ve accounted for it pretty good in our setup. I’m as optimistic as anyone going into that race track.”
Points: 4035 (3rd)
Wins in playoffs: 1 (Richmond)
Points scored in playoffs: 169 (11th)
Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 618 (7th)
July Kansas finish: 2nd (51 points)
July Texas finish: 9th (28 points)
June Martinsville finish: 3rd (34 points)
Notable: Tied with Kevin Harvick for most top 10s on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Has eight such finishes in nine races.
Quote: “I put no expectations on the year coming into it other than to run our best and to push myself to be the best driver I can be and be the best leader of the team I can be. So I can’t tell you I had a win quota put up. It is nice to have another four‑win season, but I hope we don’t stop there. The most I’ve ever had in a year is six, and I hope I can get seven.”
Points: 4027 (4th)
Wins in playoffs: 1 (Charlotte Roval)
Points scored in playoffs: 239 (1st)
Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 1,176 (1st)
July Kansas finish: 12th (26 points)
July Texas finish: 12th (29 points)
June Martinsville finish: 5th (40 points)
Notable: Has finished in the top two in the last two Kansas playoff races.
Quote: Crew chief Alan Gustafson: “I think we were slightly better than that at Texas, if you look at kind of average run, speed, whatever. We didn’t get great finishes either place (Texas and Kansas). We just weren’t very good at Kansas which was extremely disappointing because that’s historically a pretty good track for us, a track that we enjoy going to race at, have had success in the past. I think we have to be top five every stage and every finish. That’s the only way you’re going to get through that, or win.”
Points: 4022 (5th)
Wins in playoffs: 0
Points scored in playoffs: 218 (3rd)
Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 1,044 (2nd)
July Kansas finish: 35th (2 points)
July Texas finish: 3rd (43 points)
June Martinsville finish: 4th (51 points)
Notable: Has won at all three tracks in this round of the playoffs. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are the only other remaining playoff drivers to do so.
Quote: “I look at Martinsville as one of our best races. Texas wasn’t bad for us either. I feel great about where we’re at. … I feel like we got a good shot at getting to the Championship 4.”
MARTIN TRUEX JR.
Points: 4017 (6th)
Wins in playoffs: 0
Points scored in playoffs: 201 (6th)
Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 816 (4th)
July Kansas finish: 3rd (45 points)
July Texas finish: 29th (14 points)
June Martinsville finish: 1st (47 points)
Notable: Ranks second in stage points earned during playoffs with 61. Chase Elliott has scored the most stage points in the playoffs at 73.
Quote: “The strategy is every weekend you show up to the track to go out and win, and if you can’t win, you get the best finish that you can get. I don’t think strategy ever really changes in racing. Certainly, there are times that you may have to pull some strategy during a race to try to do something, but looking to the next few races, I’m looking forward to trying to win a couple of them.”
Points: 4009 (7th)
Wins in playoffs: 0
Points scored in playoffs: 209 (4th)
Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 394 (9th)
July Kansas finish: 8th (31 points)
July Texas finish: 30th (10 points)
June Martinsville finish: 6th (38 points)
Notable: Has six top-10 finishes in the past eight races, the most top 10s of any driver in the series during that span.
Quote: “Kansas in particular, we’ve almost won there before. I feel like we can go be phenomenal there. Kansas and Texas are two opportunities for us to win. Every week going to the racetrack with Hendrick Motorsports is an opportunity to win. Kansas and Texas are going to be our best shots at it for sure. It’s probably going to take a win to make the Round of 4. Just going to go all in and do everything we can to make that happen.”
Points: 4006 (8th)
Wins in playoffs: 1 (Las Vegas)
Points scored in playoffs: 177 (10th)
Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 427 (8th)
July Kansas finish: 9th (28 points)
July Texas finish: 8th (41 points)
June Martinsville finish: 9th (34 points)
Notable: Tied with Kevin Harvick for longest active streak of top 10s at 1.5-mile tracks with four.
Quote: “I feel like you’re going to have to win out in this Round of 8 and the championship race in Phoenix. This group, the elite eight … are the best of the best and can win each and every week. And so, with Kansas not being one of my best tracks, but it is a 1.5-mile, where we have won twice at Chip Ganassi Racing. Texas is a 1.5-mile that we’ve been very good at. And Martinsville has been a nice surprise since I switched to Ganassi. I’ve been running much better with the balance of the car that they have there. And then with Phoenix, if we can get there, that would be huge.”