The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Round of 12 came to a close with Kyle Larson winning at the Charlotte Roval on October 10. He locked up his seventh victory of the season and increased his playoff points total to 65. Now he is the only driver comfortably ahead of the playoff cutline.
NASCAR released the updated standings after the Bank of America Roval 400, confirming that Larson is 42 points to the positive at the start of the Round of Eight. The closest driver in the standings is Denny Hamlin, the winner of two playoff races. However, the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran is still 35 points behind Larson. Martin Truex Jr. (+6) and Ryan Blaney (+1) are the two remaining drivers above the cutline.
While Truex is the only former Cup Series champion above the cutline, there are four that need to make up ground during the Round of Eight. Two-time champion Kyle Busch, defending champion Chase Elliott, 2018 champion Joey Logano, and 2012 champion Brad Keselowski all sit at a deficit heading toward Texas Motor Speedway.
The Round of Eight will consist of three races. The Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 will take place at Texas on October 17, the Hollywood Casino 400 will take drivers to Kansas Speedway on October 24, and the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 31 will cap off the Round of Eight. Once these three races are complete, only four drivers will remain eligible for the championship trophy as they head to Phoenix Raceway on November 7.
Keselowski’s Points Cushion Saved His Playoffs
Following the first Round of 12 race — the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway — Keselowski needed to make up some points. He only sat four points above the cutline. He accomplished this goal by finishing second in the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
This finish gave Keselowski a 20-point cushion heading toward the Charlotte Roval, which kept him alive in the playoffs during a rough day at the track. The 2012 Cup Series champion finished 20th after a race in which he spun twice — once with help in the chicane — and fell below the cutline multiple times.
Keselowski spent most of the day running outside of the top 20. He had to fight back and do damage control for much of the race, but he still ended the day above the cutline while four other drivers saw their championship dreams come to an end.
“It wasn’t pretty, but the team did an excellent job helping me fight through it, which was really nice,” Keselowski told NBC Sports after the race. “It was a really frustrating day, but we built a good enough cushion at Talladega to be able to afford a little bit of a rough day and get through it.”
Blaney Can Bolster a Career Season With 3 Strong Races
The driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang has turned in the best season of his career in 2021. He has already tied his career-best 18 top-10 finishes, and he is only one top-five shy of reaching 11 for the third consecutive season. More importantly, Blaney has reached Victory Lane three times after only winning once from 2017-2020.
YRB (Young Ryan Blaney) punched his ticket to the playoffs on March 21 by winning the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He then added more playoff points to his total with back-to-back wins at Michigan (August 22) and Daytona (August 28). Now he is one point above the cutline with three races to further bolster a career-best year.
Blaney has competed in the playoffs four prior times, but he never reached the championship race. He made it to the Round of Eight in 2017 and 2019 but only reached the Round of 12 in 2018. The 2020 playoffs were a low point for Blaney’s postseason career as he failed to move on from the Round of 16.
Blaney will now fight for a spot in the championship race at three tracks where he has never won. However, he has several top-fives to his name. This list includes three at Texas Motor Speedway, three at Kansas Speedway, and five at Martinsville Speedway. The Virginia short track, in particular, served as the site of back-to-back runner-ups in 2020.