Julie Jacobson/Associated Press
One driver is through to the third round of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs ahead of Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Though many names likely came to mind before the race, Chase Elliott wasn’t necessarily near the top of the list. Alas, Elliott entered the first race after a cutdown which showed the door to a legend like Jimmie Johnson and denied season-long dominant drivers like Kevin Harvick on his way to a checkered flag.
If the unpredictability there is any sign, the always-challenging sprint at Talladega adds complexity to the middle event of another three-race stretch before four more drivers make their exit.
The rush to qualify for the semifinals is on Sunday afternoon.
Where: Talladega Superspeedway
When: Sunday, 2 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live
1. Kyle Busch
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Martin Truex Jr.
4. Brad Keselowski
Note: Qualifying is Saturday.
2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings
|1. Chase Elliott||3056|
|2. Kevin Harvick||3101|
|3. Kyle Busch||3096|
|4. Martin Truex Jr.||3069|
|5. Joey Logano||3064|
|6. Kurt Busch||3054|
|7. Brad Keselowski||3054|
|8. Ryan Blaney||3043|
|9. Aric Almirola||3033|
|10. Clint Bowyer||3033|
|11. Kyle Larson||3031|
|12. Alex Bowman||3009|
|13. Austin Dillon||2101|
|14. Jimmie Johnson||2098|
|15. Denny Hamlin||2094|
|16. Erik Jones||2079|
Drivers to Watch
Steve Helber/Associated Press
Brad Keselowski might be the most interesting driver heading into the weekend.
The Penske Racing star looked like he’d have one of the best bits of momentum going into the playoffs after ripping three straight victories in a row at the start of September.
Since the trio of Victory Lane trips, Keselowski has finished ninth, 31st and 14th.
Still, if one had to pick a race where he’d turn it around, it would easily come at Talladega. Not only does Keselowski have five wins at the track, he’s the defending champion at this particular event—not that he would ever admit this might give him an advantage.
“You’re always learning,” Keselowski said, according to USA Today‘s Michelle Martinelli. “There’s always a new move, a new technique that develops. Racing is so very dynamic, and you just try to soak it up like a sponge and apply it when it’s time.”
Keselowski isn’t in a terrible position before heading to one of his favorite locales, but another non-top-10 performance might make the upcoming elimination race a bit tighter than he’d like. Oddsmakers out of Las Vegas have Keselowski pegged as the favorite, according to Scott Hastings of Odds Shark.
Nick Wass/Associated Press
Eight races ago, Elliott made headlines by recording the first win of his career.
Now it’s starting to look like a habitual thing:
CHASE ELLIOTT WINS IT! 🏁
#Di9 | #NASCARPlayoffs https://t.co/Yc6n8GENvV
Elliott came out of nowhere to win in Dover, leading only 11 laps. It was his third consecutive top-six finish, but he wasn’t in the conversation much until the very end of the event.
Ask Elliott though, and things have gone as planned after last year’s oh-so-close trek.
“Personally, I felt like we went way further than anybody expected us to, a couple laps away from going to Homestead,” Elliott said, according to ESPN.com’s Bob Pockrass. “No reason why we can’t do that this year and give those guys a run.”
Either way, the real victory for Elliott is his making a volatile Talladega race a non-factor. He’d like to keep the strong momentum going, of course, but his championship chances aren’t going to hinge on the randomness of the event.
Then again, racing aggressive and winning another couldn’t hurt, right?
Steve Helber/Associated Press
One can feel the disappointment oozing from Harvick and his team no matter where on the globe they reside.
Harvick led 286 of the first 321 laps in Dover a week ago before a disaster on pit road, which was all of one nut shaking free and costing him several laps. He ended up finishing an undesirable sixth, giving him three ninth-or better finishes in a row as of late.
While it isn’t the end of the world for a seven-time winner this season, one expert has noted consistent pit issues have plagued Harvick’s team:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
.@TonyStewart says pit problems have kept @KevinHarvick from winning even more races this season #NASCAR https://t.co/y7HLRoiMtw
That Harvick has seven wins this season won’t matter much in the grand scheme of things if a random piece of hardware here or there chips away at his standing on the leaderboard.
Fans haven’t seen Harvick win since mid-August now. While that is refreshing from an anything-can-happen perspective, the driver of the No. 4 Ford has to be feeling the pressure to solidify his spot ahead of an elimination race.