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Despite comfortable point leads, Round of 8 not locked in

The top eight playoff drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings sit comfortably above the cutline entering Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway. However, the four remaining contenders still have a solid chance to save their season — and they may have history on their side.

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Despite no change to the top eight after the 2018 Round of 12 elimination race, playoff history tends to lean towards a more variable outlook.

Since the adoption of the current NASCAR Playoffs format during the 2014 season, five drivers who were in position to advance to the Round of 8 saw their title hopes dashed in the Round of 12 elimination race. Two of the five, Kyle Larson in 2017 and Kyle Busch in 2014, entered with more than a 25-point cushion but had back-of-the pack finishes that derailed their chase for the Cup.

Although winning the race is the ultimate goal, it is not necessarily a must for the fringe contenders racing to salvage their title hopes. Only one outside-sitting driver under the current format has won the Round of 12 elimination race to advance to the next round: Brad Keselowski in 2014. Keselowski went on to finish the season in fifth place that year, despite tallying a series-high six wins and 17 top five finishes in 36 races.

For a pair of the outside four, recent playoff success at Kansas may lead to a more positive and familiar outlook in the high-stakes race. In last season’s Hollywood Casino 400, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman both secured top-10 finishes. Bowman crossed the line in ninth place, while Elliott dominated the final 44 laps to take home the checkered flag, locking down his coveted spot the Round of 8.

As for the final two, they may have to put together one of the best Kansas performances of their careers. Clint Bowyer, currently sitting 24 points out of contention, has just one top five finish in his last 12 races at Kansas, while William Byron (27 points below the cutline) has an average finish of 30.3 in three career starts at the track.

With Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney being the only drivers securely locked into the Round of 8 after each notching their first win of the season, the playoff tension is building for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM Radio).

Source: Racing Insights