After the opening race of the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, here’s a brief look at the playoff picture. There are two races remaining in the Round of 12 before the field is whittled to eight, with four drivers eliminated from the postseason after the Oct. 10 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
Denny Hamlin. The No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver won Sunday night’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, marking his second victory of 2021 and the 46th of his career. Hamlin led a race-high 137 laps of the 267-circuit event. He is the first title contender locked into the Round of 8.
Kyle Larson. The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports driver won Stage 1, earning yet another playoff point to add to his already large total (now at 47). Larson also led a second-best 96 laps around the 1.5-mile Nevada track.
Kyle Busch. The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver finished third after placing second in both of the stages. Busch entered the race fifth in the standings and only further padded his cushion on the elimination line.
Christopher Bell. The No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver entered Sunday’s race 11th in the standings (out by nine points), didn’t capture any stage points ( 22nd in Stage 1 and 25th in Stage 2) and ultimately finished 24th overall. Bell did not help his playoff survival chances in Las Vegas.
Alex Bowman. The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driver leaves Las Vegas on the flip side of the elimination line, going from seventh to 11th. Bowman didn’t place within the top 10 in either stage (11th in Stage 1 and 24th in Stage 2) and ended up finishing 22nd.
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The NASCAR Cup Series travels to Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama for the YellaWood 500 next Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Who it favors
Brad Keselowski. The No. 2 Team Penske Ford driver has the most career wins (six) out of the entire NASCAR Cup Series field and the best career average finish (15.6) out of the current NASCAR Playoffs field. Teammate Joey Logano has the second-most career wins (three); his playoff standing is stronger than that of Keselowski.
Who it hurts
Alex Bowman. The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driver has the worst career finish (24.6 in 12 starts) out of NASCAR Playoffs contenders with more than three starts. The only one whose career average finish is worse: Christopher Bell (28.3 in three starts). Kyle Larson, however, has not a single top-five finish in 13 starts; but he just so happens to be well above the elimination line.