Elimination time again, only this time, there’s no telling who’ll be in and who’ll be out.
That’s because Talladega lived up to its reputation as cursed, or mysterious, or just nearly impossible to finish. By the time Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag, more than half the field was already in the garage for the day, relegated to watching on TV rather than from pit road or their cars.
And while we knew Talladega would lead to some movers and shakers on the NASCAR playoff leaderboard, now we actually know where we stand going into Sunday’s elimination race in Kansas City. And where we stand is ... well, anyone could still make the cut.
That’s more than could be said at Dover for the first round of playoff cutdowns. It was basically a foregone conclusion that Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, and Kurt Busch were going to be eliminated, and they were.
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This time around, it’s less predictable.
This cutdown at Kansas Speedway could end the championship dreams for a few legitimate title contenders, none more so than Kyle Busch.
It’s been a precipitous drop for Busch since his victory at Dover three weeks ago. There he was, second in the standings, had won back-to-back races, and seemed poised to challenge Martin Truex Jr. for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
And then bad luck happened. His car took heavy damage at Charlotte and he finished 29th. A good result at Talladega could have put him back on track, but instead he got caught in the carnage and finished 27th. Now he’s ninth in the standings, just on the wrong side of the imaginary cut line.
A good finish (or another victory, if he could manage) would put him back in good graces and give him more time to mount a move back up the leaderboard. For now though, things don’t look great for Busch.
Then there’s Jimmie Johnson, at No. 8. He entered this postseason with dreams of a record eighth Cup Series championship, but now he’ll be fortunate just to make it to the third round.
Jamie McMurray (12th), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (11th), and Matt Kenseth (10th) would be eliminated if the second round were over today. Their chances for advancing aren’t terrific, but as we learned last weekend at Talladega, anything can happen.
And at this rate, it probably will.