Playoff Pulse: Analyzing the field after Texas

Following the first race in the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, here’s a brief look at the playoff picture. There are two races remaining in the Round of 8, including next Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway and the final elimination race on Oct. 31 at Martinsville Speedway.


Kyle Larson. Larson put another stomping on the field for his eighth victory of the 2021 season, locking himself into the Championship 4 on Nov. 7 at Phoenix Raceway. The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports driver led 255 of the 334 laps for his first career victory at the 1.5-mile Fort Worth track.

RELATED: Race results | At-track photos

Who’s hot

Ryan Blaney. It was a quiet day at Texas for the No. 12 Team Penske driver, but a sixth-place finish now puts him 17 points above the elimination line and second in the playoff standings behind Larson.

Brad Keselowski. Like his teammate Blaney, Keselowski also flew under the radar in the 500-miler for a fourth-place finish. Although he’s still 15 points below the elimination line, it showed Keselowski has better speed under the No. 2 Ford on 1.5-mile tracks, which bodes well for him next Sunday at Kansas.

Who’s not

Martin Truex Jr. The No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver was on his way to a solid top-10 day when disaster struck. Truex was hit in the left-rear quarter panel by Daniel Suarez in Turn 4 with 15 laps remaining, sending him hard into the outside wall and ending his day prematurely. A 25th-place finish now puts Truex 22 points behind the elimination line with two races left to dig himself out of the hole.

Joey Logano. It was going to be a decent run for Logano until the engine expired in his No. 22 Team Penske Ford on Lap 299. His 30th-place result was the worst out of the eight playoff drivers. He’s now 43 points back and in a potential must-win situation.


Rank Driver Points to cutoff
1. Kyle Larson WIN
2. Ryan Blaney +17
3. Denny Hamlin +9
4. Kyle Busch +8
5. Chase Elliott -8
6. Brad Keselowski -15
7. Martin Truex Jr. -22
8. Joey Logano -43

Next race

The NASCAR Cup Series travels to the Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400 next Sunday (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Who it favors

Denny Hamlin. The No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver was involved in two separate incidents in Sunday’s race at Texas, but he was still able to salvage an 11th-place finish and stayed nine points above the elimination line. Kansas has treated Hamlin well recently, earning back-to-back victories in the 2019 fall race and 2020 spring race and three wins there overall.

Who it hurts

Ryan Blaney. It’ll be interesting to see how Blaney runs at Kansas. He has four finishes of 20th or worse in the past five races there, finishing seventh in 2020 fall race. But, the No. 12 machine has shown top-tier speed on intermediate tracks this year, so he could easily compete for victory and a potential Championship 4 berth.

RELATED: Analyzing the Round of 8 playoff tracks