Mash The Gas: NASCAR Playoffs At Dover Preview

Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. lead the field to start the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series AAA 400 Drive for Autism in June at Dover International Speedway. [Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images]

Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. lead the field to start the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series AAA 400 Drive for Autism in June at Dover International Speedway. [Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images]

by John Wiedemann

Sunday afternoon is the final race of the “Round of 16” in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. After the checkers fly at Dover International Speedway, the playoff field will be cut by four drivers down to twelve contenders for the championship.

Apache Warrior 400 Presented by Lucas Oil
Dover International Speedway
400 miles (400 laps)
Sunday, Oct. 1
2 p.m. ET
NBCSN, 1:30 p.m. ET
MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Stage 1 (Ends on lap 120)
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 240)
Final Stage (Ends on lap 400)
Dover International Speedway, also known as the “Monster Mile”, is a high banked one mile track with 24 degree turns and nine degree straights that ten to funnel issues and accidents right back down into traffic.

In the Chase/Playoff era, only Championship contenders have won this race. Also, a rookie hasn’t won at Dover since Jimmie Johnson swept the Dover races in 2002. In fact, experience has prevailed in victory lane at Dover for a while now. That may change as Kyle Larson led a race high 241 laps on his way to finishing second in June. In that race, young gun Chase Elliott finished fifth, rookie Daniel Suarez was sixth, Dillon brothers ran well with Austin 13th and Ty 14th (leading 27 laps), and rookie Erik Jones finished 15th. Of course Jimmie Johnson won, but the youngsters showed up well.

So, who is going to make the cut? Here are the drivers to watch…

Truex, Kyle Busch, Larson & Keselowski Are In!
Martin Truex Jr. is moving into the next round based on his win at Chicagoland, bringing a treasure chest of playoff points with him. Even though he is in, look for the defending champion of this race to run up front, grab playoff points and probably the win. Kyle Busch is set with last week’s victory, but he would like the playoff points to himself and will give Truex a challenge. Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski have enough points that they are guaranteed to move to the next round. Larson will also challenge for stage wins as well as the overall win. Keselowski will be interesting to see how he runs. Brad has run well consistently, but challenging for the race win is what I want to see him do as we start to move deeper in the playoffs.

These guys are safe, well… they should be…
Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth are above the cutoff position by forty plus points. They should be fine with a top twenty finish, likely a top thirty finish. Jimmie Johnson has a 32 point cushion and Ryan Blaney (26 points), Chase Elliott (26) and Kevin Harvick (25) are pretty well above the cut line also. It would take a couple of lower placed playoff drivers having a spectacular race and these guys having issues to knock them out. Harvick had his wreck affect him at New Hampshire and he still is in a good position, but he sure doesn’t want that to happen again. A solid and typical run by these drivers sets them up to advance to the next round.

This is where it gets interesting…
Jamie McMurray is nine points to the positive in eleventh place. To get eliminated, two drivers would need to pass McMurray with no one above falling down. The problem is that there are three drivers within ten points of McMurray. All he needs is to make sure he stays ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman on the track. It’s a simple plan, but tough to make happen. Expect those positions to bounce around during the race, especially for Stenhouse, Dillon and Newman who are within a point of each other.

Long shots
Both Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne had two playoff races that they did not want and now they are at the bottom of the standings. Busch still has an outside shot by points racing. Seventeen points back, Busch would need a top five run and have the trio of Stenhouse, Dillon and Newman finish poorly, it’s definitely a long shot. Kahne is worse off, being 21 points behind and would also have to out point the trio listed above and Busch. Obviously a win for either would get them in.

My overall prediction is Truex wins the race and the four drivers that get eliminated will be Kahne, Kurt Busch, Stenhouse and Dillon. This weekend at Dover should be fun and full of drama.

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