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ADVANCING through the NASCAR Playoffs: Richmond analysis

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

WINNER

Brad Keselowski. The 2012 champ scored his fourth win of the season and his third with the 2020 short-track package — he also won at Bristol and New Hampshire with this package. He joins Kevin Harvick (last weekend’s winner at Darlington) and Denny Hamlin (by points) as the only drivers locked into the Round of 12.

RELATED: Brad Keselowski dominates for Richmond win

WHO’S HOT

Kyle Busch. Two pre-race inspection failures sent the reigning champ to the back of the field, but he methodically worked his way up — without his regular crew chief as Adam Stevens was serving a one-race suspension. Strong pit stops and a stout car late in runs helped Busch finish sixth and improve his standing.

Austin Dillon. The Richard Childress Racing driver backed up his runner-up finish at Darlington with a fourth-place result at Richmond. The big boon of the day for Dillon? A race-best 18 stage points to help his cause and a season-best 55 laps out front. He jumps from +10 to the cutline entering the night to +36. A sixth-place finish at Bristol in the spring should only further this group’s confidence of advancing on in the playoffs.

Martin Truex Jr. The driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing continued his blistering run where he has done everything but win — and it feels like those are really, really close. A runner-up finish was Truex’s ninth top-four finish in 10 races — with his 20th-place finish from late contact with Chase Elliott for the lead at Darlington last weekend being the lone exception during the run.

WHO’S NOT

William Byron. It was a tough night for the young Hendrick Motorsports driver, who saw his playoff position flip by a matter of 12 points from ninth (+9) to 13th (-3) thanks to a 21st-place finish at Richmond — the worst among the 16 playoff drivers. He had entered the race with three straight top-five finishes on the season and he’ll need a solid Bristol result to advance.

Ryan Blaney. The Team Penske driver’s opening round struggles continued at Richmond — his worst track on average finish on the circuit. The No. 12 Ford had to pit twice under the competition caution to tighten lug nuts and that put him in a hole he could never fully work his way out of en route to a 19th-place finish. He is in close to must-win territory at Bristol given the number of spots he needs to jump to advance on.

BUBBLE WATCH

Rank Driver Points to cutoff
9. Kyle Busch +18
10. Aric Almirola +7
11. Kurt Busch +7
12. Clint Bowyer +3
——-                               CUT-OFF LINE ———————
13. William Byron -3
14. Cole Custer -8
15. Matt DiBenedetto -25
16. Ryan Blaney -27

NEXT RACE

The NASCAR Cup Series travels to Bristol Motor Speedway for the third and final race of the Round of 16 in the NASCAR Playoffs on Sept. 19 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

WHO IT FAVORS

The Busch brothers. Kyle and Kurt Busch have combined for 14 wins at “The Last Great Colosseum” and they are the top two in wins at Bristol among active drivers — Kyle has eight and Kurt has six.

WHO IT HURTS

Aric Almirola. The driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has just one top five and three top 10s in 22 starts at Bristol. His 25.0 average finish is his worst at any track and the worst among playoff drivers with at least two starts there. Five of his last six results at Bristol have been outside the top 25.