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ADVANCING through the NASCAR Playoffs: Darlington analysis

After the first race of the Round of 16 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs at Darlington Raceway, here’s a brief look at the playoff picture. Just two races remains in the Round of 16 before the field is whittled to the Round of 12, with four drivers eliminated from the postseason after the race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 19.

Winner

Kevin Harvick notched his eighth victory of the 2020 season. The No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driver took control of the race after Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott smacked the wall while battling for the lead and were ultimately taken out of winning contention.

RELATED: Race results

Who’s hot

Martin Truex Jr. The driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota swept both stages to earn two playoff points. Despite his poor finish after the late-race incident, Truex Jr. showed plenty of speed and aggression.

Austin Dillon. The driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet finished runner-up by .343 seconds, his first ever runner-up finish in the NASCAR Cup Series. With other drivers slipping in the final results, Dillon made quite a jump.

Who’s not

Ryan Blaney. The driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford wound up 24th coming to the checkered flag — the worst finish among playoff contenders. To make matters worse, his team previously been hit with a 10-point penalty following pre-race inspection for improperly secured ballast.

Matt DiBenedetto. The driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford came in 21st and made no positive movement in the playoff standings. In fact, he’s now 17 points back with just two races to catch up.

BUBBLE WATCH

Rank Driver Points to cutoff
9. William Byron 9
10. Kyle Busch 7
11. Kurt Busch 4
12. Aric Almirola 0
————— CUT-OFF LINE —————
13. Clint Bowyer 0
14. Cole Custer -3
15. Matt DiBenedetto -17
16. Ryan Blaney -17

Next race

The NASCAR Cup Series travels to Richmond Raceway for the second race in the NASCAR Playoffs on Sept. 12 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Who it favors

Kyle Busch. NASCAR has not had a race at Richmond this year due to restructuring brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the most recent events have been dominated by Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch has two wins in the last five races at the track, and his average finish during that stretch is 4.2 — the best in the series.

Who it hurts

Ryan Blaney. Matt DiBenedetto has a worse average finish than Blaney over the last five Richmond races, but DiBenedetto is getting his first swing in Wood Brothers Racing equipment. Blaney hasn’t logged a top-10 finish here — or led a lap — and has finished off the lead lap in three consecutive races.