The NASCAR Cup Series season continued on Sunday, May 30, with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. This race was the 15th in the 2021 season and created major movement in the points standings. Race-winner Kyle Larson now holds the second spot while Martin Truex Jr. dropped to sixth.
Larson has been one of the most consistent drivers since joining Hendrick Motorsports, but he moved up the leaderboard after winning his second race of the season. He currently has 557 points, moving him into a tie with teammate William Byron. Though Larson is higher on the leaderboard due to winning one more race than the driver of the No. 24 HMS Chevrolet Camaro.
Truex, the winner of a series-high three races, spent much of the season in the second spot. However, he began to move down the leaderboard as the HMS drivers began performing better and better with each passing week. Though Truex has a secure spot in the playoffs and remains a championship contender.
A Winless Driver Still Holds the Top Spot
While Larson, Byron, Chase Elliott, and Alex Bowman are all making moves up the leaderboard each week, they still have work to do before taking the top spot. Denny Hamlin, the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry, has had a stranglehold on the top spot all year long and still has a 76-point lead over Larson and Byron.
Hamlin has five stage wins to his name in 2021, as well as nine top-five finishes. He has yet to win a race, but he still has the second-most laps led (754) in the first 15 races. Hamlin’s string of strong performances includes a seventh-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 that added another 36 points to his total.
With the regular season more than halfway over, there is little doubt that Hamlin will book his trip to the playoffs. Though there are questions about whether he will continue to hold that top spot amid the HMS drivers’ meteoric rise. For now, Hamlin will continue to lead while his fellow drivers push for top finishes each week.
Two Smaller NASCAR Teams Currently Sit in the Playoff Picture
Unsurprisingly, the current playoff picture features some big names. All three Team Penske drivers — Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, and Joey Logano — have wins to their name and spots secure in the playoffs. The same goes for the four members of Hendrick Motorsports. All four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers — Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Truex, and Christopher Bell — also have spots in the playoffs. However, there are some smaller teams joining them above the cutoff line.
Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick, who both drive for Richard Childress Racing, remain in the playoff picture after the Coca-Cola 600. Dillon finished sixth, his sixth top-10 of the year, en route to taking the 11th spot in the standings. Reddick finished ninth on Sunday, his eighth top-10. Now he sits in 13th in the standings. Neither RCR driver has won a race, but they are both above the cutoff line.
Similarly, Roush Fenway Racing‘s Chris Buescher finished eighth in the Coca-Cola 600 and continued a strong season. The driver of the No. 17 Ford Mustang has four top-10 finishes in 2021, as well as a stage win. These outings have contributed to him holding the 14th spot in the points standings, ahead of such names as Christopher Bell, Matt DiBenedetto, Michael McDowell, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The NASCAR season continues with trip to Sonoma Raceway and Nashville Superspeedway over the next three weeks. These “smaller” teams will have to continue performing well in order to remain above the cutoff line and in contention for a spot in the playoffs.