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Playoffs Check: Analyzing the field after Las Vegas opener

After the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs race, here’s a brief look at the playoffs picture. There are two races remaining in the Round of 16 before the field is whittled to 12, with four drivers eliminated from the postseason following Charlotte (Sept. 29).

Winner

Martin Truex Jr. won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, clinching a spot in the Round of 12. The win also gives him five playoff points to add to his total, which now sits at 35. Those playoff points can transferred round to round, up to the Championship 4.

RELATED: Race results 

Who’s hot

Kevin Harvick. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led a strong 47 laps en route to a second-place finish coming off a dominant win at The Brickyard. He’s rounding nicely into championship form and he’s due for more trips to Victory Lane the rest of the way.

Brad Keselowski. Though he crashed at Indianapolis, the Team Penske driver notched a third top-five finish in the past four races via a third-place run at Vegas. He got hot at this time last year but couldn’t make it all the way to Homestead — this could be the year he once again does.

Who’s not

Erik Jones. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was forced to make a mid-race trip to the garage, putting him several laps down. He finished a dismal 36th and is last place in the playoff standings.

Kurt Busch. A popular sleeper pick, Busch has a hole to dig out of following hard contact with the wall after a blown tire ended his race early for a last-place finish. He’s on the wrong side of the bubble, too.

BUBBLE WATCH

Rank Driver Points to cutoff
9. William Byron +13
10. Ryan Blaney +12
11. Alex Bowman +10
12. Aric Almirola +6
————— CUT-OFF LINE —————
13. Ryan Newman -6
14. Kurt Busch -14
15. Clint Bowyer -21
16. Erik Jones -26

Next race

The Monster Energy Series travels to Richmond Raceway for a Saturday night race on Sept. 21 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Who it favors

Kyle Busch. If there’s any respite for Busch after a frustrating day at Vegas, it’s that he’s exceptional at Richmond. The track’s active leader with six wins has a sterling 7.0 average finish at the Virginia track, winning two of the last three.

Who it hurts

Ryan Blaney. The Team Penske driver is plus-12 to the good for now, but his Richmond history is, to put it bluntly, abysmal. Blaney could find himself on the wrong end of the line after Saturday night if he doesn’t better his previous best (18th, with a 26.7 average finish in seven starts) at the short track.