Playoffs Pulse: Analyzing the field after Martinsville

After the opening race of the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs at Martinsville Speedway, here’s a brief look at the playoff picture. There are two races remaining in the Round of 8 before the field is whittled to the Championship 4, with four drivers eliminated from the postseason following the race at ISM Raceway near Phoenix on Nov. 10.


Martin Truex Jr. dominated Sunday at Martinsville, claiming his seventh win of the season. The victory also adds five playoff points to his total (along with two more he got for winning Stage 1 and Stage 2) and locks him into the Championship 4. He is the first driver to clinch a spot in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

RELATED: Official race results

Who’s hot

Ryan Blaney. Blaney was not pushed around at the .526-mile track. The driver of the No. 12 looked every bit like a short-track veteran during the frenetic closing laps, using his chrome horn when appropriate and showing restraint when necessary. He finished fifth and gained a bit of ground in the process.

Denny Hamlin. Hamlin won the Busch Pole Award, and although the No. 11 team lost the point early on a slow pit stop, the Virginia native drove his way back through the field, even as track conditions changed and his car lost some of its bite. A fourth-place run puts him comfortably ahead of the cutline.

Who’s not

Chase Elliott. A horrible turn of events ruined Elliott’s hot start at Martinsville. Whether or not it ruins his entire Round of 8 remains to be seen. An apparent broken axle on the No. 9 Chevrolet put Elliott from running in the top five early in Stage 2 — after starting from the rear, no less — to behind the wall, in last place. His day ruined, Elliott must win one of the next two races to advance to the Championship 4.

Kyle Busch. He’s above the cutline, but this seven-race playoff stretch has not been kind to Busch and the No. 18 team. Something seems off with this group. Busch had finally started to move up into the top five midway through the final stage when he was ensnared in a wreck with Aric Almirola — who later said “I’m going to make it hell for him” in reference to Kyle Busch’s race for the championship.


Rank Driver Points to cutoff
1. Martin Truex Jr. WIN
2. Denny Hamlin +24
3. Kyle Busch +17
4. Joey Logano +14
————— CUT-OFF LINE —————
5. Kevin Harvick -14
6. Ryan Blaney -15
7. Kyle Larson -24
8. Chase Elliott -44

Next race

The Monster Energy Series travels to Texas Motor Speedway for the second race in the Round of 8 at the 1.5-mile facility on Nov. 3 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Who it favors

Kevin Harvick. There have been five races at Texas since its repave and reconfiguration, so we’re only looking at the last five races there. And the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford emerges as the clear favorite. He has four top-five finishes and five top 10s during that stretch, with an average finish of 3.2. He’s the favorite next weekend.

Who it hurts

Kyle Larson. Texas has been a total boom-or-bust for the 27-year-old since 2017. Larson has one runner-up finish, another fifth-place finish … and then three finishes of 36th or worse due to wrecks. Truth be told, most of the playoff drivers have been good at Texas. Larson’s average finish of 23.8 is easily the worst, but he’s also capable of winning the race outright.