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Playoff analysis: Darlington sets the scene for Richmond

The Round of 16 showdown at Darlington Raceway sure shook up the 2021 NASCAR Playoffs picture – and it was literally the first race of the postseason. The point standings’ series of switcheroos is bound to make things even more interesting for Saturday’s short-track race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Out of the 16 drivers in the title field, only one remained stagnant in his spot in the standings.

RELATED: Richmond schedule | Keep up with all things playoffs

Take a look:

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Now, to evaluate some highlights:

— Denny Hamlin went from being ranked seventh in the original playoff standings to now first after the opening race in the Round of 16. His jump is notable because his win at Darlington marked his first of 2021, and this is a driver who won seven races in 2020, six in the regular season alone.

— There are two drivers below the cutline with multiple wins from the 2021 regular season. Alex Bowman had three victories that qualified him into the postseason, and Kyle Busch had two. Bowman at least finished the race at Darlington running, albeit four laps short on the final distance. Busch, however, crashed out 125 laps into the 367-lap event. Busch dropping 10 spots in the standings is the biggest change, despite others either losing or gaining much more on the elimination line – like Kyle Larson gaining 33 points.

— The only two playoff drivers without a win remain above the elimination line: Tyler Reddick and Kevin Harvick. Both moved up thanks to Darlington results, just maybe not their own. Harvick had the top-five finish, so his rank increase was due to his own performance. Reddick, on the other hand, finished outside the top 15, so he benefited from others’ trouble.

— Reigning champion Chase Elliott sunk in the standings, unsurprisingly so because of his 31st-place finish at Darlington. Elliott is the only driver currently safe from elimination who lost points on the line. Tenth is the lowest he has been ranked all season, too.

— Martin Truex Jr. is that one driver who, out of the entire 16-drive field, did not move in the standings after Darlington’s race. Truex did add to his buffer on the elimination line, so he didn’t stay completely stagnant either.

After Saturday’s showdown at Richmond, only one race remains in the Round of 16: Bristol Motor Speedway (on Sept. 18), a wild-card venue for an elimination race that will trim the Cup Series playoff field from 16 to 12.