Who’s In and Out – NASCAR Playoff Race 1

Martin Truex Jr. celebrates at Chicagoland with his fifth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win in the 2017 season. [Photo by Doug Hornickel]

Martin Truex Jr. celebrates at Chicagoland with his fifth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win in the 2017 season. [Photo by Doug Hornickel]

The Tales of the Turtles 400 from Chicagoland Speedway is in the books and after the first event in the opening round of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, we are already getting a picture of what is in store.

As the drivers race through the playoffs to get to the Championship 4 round at Homestead, there are two things that we know for sure, stage points are going to make or break drivers chances on advancing forward and it looks like the ones that do will have to contend with the #78 of MTJ.

Green Flag – These drivers are looking good to make the Round of 12

Martin Truex Jr. – The driver that is pretty much already set to skate through the playoff rounds on the way to Homestead goes out and wins the race, cementing his spot in the Round of 12 and adding to his treasure chest of playoff points. There isn’t much left to be said about the Furniture Row Toyota team. Look for them in Homestead.

Chase Elliott – The young Hendrick Motorsports driver took a big step forward this weekend at Chicagoland. Elliott scored the most race points of all drivers by virtue of his second place finish and scoring a race high 18 bonus points. Those bonus points were gained by finishing third in the first stage and winning the second stage. Being in contention all day and leading the most laps of a race since March are going to really help the young driver as he races in his second playoff season. Elliott made it to the Round of 12 last season and should surpass that accomplishment this season.

Kyle Busch – Showing how important Stage points are, Kyle Busch finished 15th when the checkers flew but had the ninth most points accumulated. In addition, the bonus points that Busch scored during the regular season have him in fourth place in the standings with a 36 point cushion ahead of the drivers on the bubble in 12th place. The pit crew mistake was key to his finish at Chicagoland. Don’t expect that mistake to happen again and focus on his race high 85 laps led. You can pencil Busch into the next playoff round.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson entered the playoffs seeded fifth and after Chicagoland drops to eighth. Stage points eluded the driver of the Lowe’s Chevrolet, but he did finish with a top ten. Johnson has historically been really good at all the tracks in the Playoffs and Chicagoland was one of them. The recent theme of not really running in the front pack until the late part of the race could hurt Johnson going forward. Stage points are going to be key, maybe not as much in this round but going forward they are going to be huge. Of course, last season Johnson came out of nowhere to win the Championship, so who am I to say he can’t do it again.

Matt Kenseth – Scoring the 5th most points in the race at Chicagoland allowed Kenseth to jump up from being seeded 15th to place 9th in the standings after the first race. Although he has yet to win in 2017, Kenseth has been really strong as of late after a slow start to the season. Don’t be surprised to see Kenseth drive deep into the playoff rounds and he should be good to make the round of twelve.

Yellow Flag – These drivers are in trouble and may not make the next round

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – With two wins this season, Stenhouse solidly put himself in the playoffs. The question is can he stay in them. After a disastrous performance at Chicagoland, his prospects look dim. Stenhouse’s victories were at restrictor plate tracks but he will need to pick it up over the next two events to make it as a championship contender to the Talladega race in the playoffs which is the second race in the second round. Third worst among the playoff drivers with total number of top ten finishes (7) in the regular season, Stenhouse hasn’t had a finish better than 14th since his win on July 1st at Daytona.

Kasey Kahne – I hate to say it but this was a typical 2017 season race for Kahne as he went laps down early and never was in contention. I just don’t see Kahne making it to the next round. While teammates Chase Elliott and to a bit lesser degree Jimmie Johnson showed speed at Chicagoland, Kahne never had a chance. The next two races in the first round of the playoffs are at New Hampshire and Dover where Kahne finished 28th and 17th respectively earlier this season. It just doesn’t look good for Kahne.

Austin Dillon – I had Austin Dillon on my list for drivers that may not make it past the Round of 16 this season. But, one thing to remember is that he came on strong during the middle of last year’s Chase season, almost making it to the second round. The points are tight where Dillon is right now, on the bubble. Last year in the Chase, Dillon finished 16th and 8th at the New England and Dover races. Earlier this year he finished 15th and 13th at those tracks. A bit of improvement in those races could move Dillon into the next round.

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