The NASCAR regular season is 12 races deep, and the playoff race is heating up. Multiple drivers have secured spots in the postseason with wins while others are still chasing the elusive checkered flag. Many of these names are familiar but one — Chris Buescher — serves as a surprise to some racing fans.
The Roush Fenway Racing driver has not yet reached Victory Lane in 2021, but he has led 71 laps and won one stage. Buescher also has three top-10 finishes so far. The result is 287 points and 13th place in the standings, above the 16-driver cutoff line.
For comparison, Buescher currently sits above some 2020 playoff drivers, such as Matt DiBenedetto, Kurt Busch, Cole Custer, and Aric Almirola. All four currently sit beneath the cutoff line after previously trying to pursue a championship.
Buescher previously reached the playoffs in 2016 after taking the checkered flag at Pocono Raceway. He did not make it past the first round while other drivers such as Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, and Brad Keselowski among others moved on to the Round of 12.
A winless driver holds a stranglehold on the points
While Martin Truex Jr. posted his third win of the season on Sunday, he did not take the top spot in the points standings. He still sits 75 points behind teammate Denny Hamlin, who has yet to win a race in 2021 after winning seven last year.
Hamlin sits atop the standings with 529 points. He has nine total top-five finishes and five stage wins, giving him a 75-point advantage over Truex. He has also led 749 laps during the first 12 races, by far the most out of the field. Truex is second with 608 laps led while Joey Logano is a distant third with 324 laps led.
With the way NASCAR creates the playoff field, Hamlin should not have any issues making the playoffs. The field consists of 15 drivers with the most wins and the regular-season points champion. Even if Hamlin does not win a race, he is still on pace to make the playoffs based on points alone.
A driver on a hot streak rounds out the top three
While Hamlin has posted nine top-10 finishes in the first 12 races, there is one man that has more. William Byron, the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, sits in third place in the points standings with 428 points.
Byron only has one win in 2021, which he posted at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but he has 10 consecutive top-10 finishes. This run includes four top-fives, the most recent of which was fourth place in Sunday’s Goodyear 400.
Byron made the playoffs in 2020 after winning the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway, but he did not move past the Round of 16. He struggled at Richmond and then crashed at Bristol while the other drivers turned in more consistent finishes. Now Byron is heading back to the playoffs, and he is showcasing impressive consistency.
The next race on the schedule is the Drydene 400 at Dover International Speedway. The race will take place at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday. Fox Sports 1 will provide coverage with Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon, and Clint Bowyer in the booth to call the action. Larry McReynolds will serve as a studio analyst while Jamie Little and Regan Smith will provide updates from pit road.