It’s that time of the year again — NASCAR playoffs.
The long, taxing season boils down to four rounds, ten races and 16 Cup series drivers, to start. But after this Sunday’s ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, four drivers will be eliminated. This track is notorious for switching up the standings, especially at the bottom.
It’s safe to say it’s anyone’s race considering last year’s last-lap, last-turn wreck when Martin Truex Jr. spun Jimmie Johnson, giving room for Ryan Blaney to slip through and win.
That said, a few drivers can coast this weekend and live to tell the tale. Truex is safe, especially after collecting 12 out of the 14 playoff points with consecutive victories at Las Vegas and Richmond. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are also guaranteed to go onto the second round.
Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano all look good heading into Sunday’s race, resting more than 50 points ahead of Alex Bowman, who is the first driver outside of the transfer spot. Chase Elliott even seems to be in a relatively good spot, 37 points above his teammate.
However, not everyone is that lucky.
There are six winless drivers and three singles that could benefit from a trip down Victory Lane on Sunday. Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, Blaney, Aric Almirola, William Byron and Clint Bowyer are all without a win this season, resting in 8-12th and 14th place, respectively, in the playoff standings. Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch and Erik Jones are 13th, 15th and 16th, all with a win but just outside of the cutoff.
With the exception of Jones, all are within ten points or fewer of one another. While drivers can hope that their points are just enough to slip into the next round, a win at the chaotic ROVAL would be their golden ticket to temporary security.
Here are two drivers that could see victory lane this weekend, given that luck and skill are in their favor.
Despite seeming like he’s Penske’s forgotten man, Blaney could see Victory Lane once again this weekend. He’s the reigning ROVAL 400 champ. Blaney had an inconsistent start to the season, starting with a crash at Daytona and his car overheating at Fort Worth six weeks later. Since then, Blaney has started to find his momentum, ignoring yet another crash at Daytona later in the season.
In the last ten races, Blaney has three top-five and five top-10 finishes, the latest being a fifth-place finish at Las Vegas to open the playoffs two weeks ago. Maybe Charlotte Motor Speedway will be his lucky charm once again.
The last time the 27-year-old rolled down victory lane was September 2017 at Richmond Raceway. Despite his sixth career win continuing to elude him, the momentum seems to be in Larson’s favor. Over the last ten races, he has four top-five and eight top-10 finishes. His other two placements were 33rd due to wrecks at Loudon and Indianapolis, which pushed his total to six wrecks for this season.
This week’s NASCAR race at Charlotte: What you need to know.
Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America ROVAL 400.
Distance: 109 laps, or 248.5 miles (400 kilometers).
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course
When: 2:30 p.m., Sunday.
Last year’s winner: Ryan Blaney.
Also this week: Drive For The Cure 200, Xfinity Series, Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, 3:30 p.m., Saturday, NBCSN.
Worth mentioning: Four drivers will be eliminated from the playoffs at the completion of the ROVAL 400 on Sunday afternoon.
Who’s hot, who’s not
Hot: The majority of Joe Gibbs Racing, specifically Martin Truex Jr. Leading the pack with six wins, Truex has back-to-back playoff victories. This past Sunday’s win at Richmond marked the 15th Joe Gibbs’ win in 28 races.
Kyle Busch has also gone 14 races without a victory despite running up top.
Not: Erik Jones and Kurt Busch. Since his lone win at Darlington, Jones has finished 39th (crash), 36th and 38th (disqualified) over the course of his next three races. He’s 45 points below Byron, who sits at 12th in the standings.
Busch is in a similar boat, going winless for nine races. But during the last three races, he has finished 30th, 39th (crash) and 18th. He hasn’t had a top-five finish since his victory at Kentucky. This leaves him 14 points behind Byron.