As the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs continue, the field has now been narrowed down to 12 drivers. With each race becoming increasingly crucial, there are several pressing questions surrounding the remaining contenders. NBC Sports’ Dustin Long and John Newby share their insights and discuss their concerns heading into the next round.
One of the key questions is which driver can maintain their momentum and advance to the Round of 8. Dustin Long believes that Denny Hamlin is the driver to watch, considering his strong performance in the first round. Hamlin’s car has consistently shown speed, and with his talented crew chief and pit crew, he has the potential to go far in the playoffs. Although Kyle Larson had an impressive average finish of 2.3 in the first round, it’s hard to argue against Hamlin’s significant momentum.
John Newby, on the other hand, thinks that Brad Keselowski is the driver with the potential to continue his momentum into the next round. Keselowski finished in the top 10 in every race of the Round of 16 and managed to avoid the mistakes that plagued other playoff drivers. Despite being three points below the cutline, Keselowski has a history of consistent success at upcoming tracks like Texas and Talladega, which could help him accumulate points and secure his spot in the Round of 8.
When it comes to concerns about specific drivers entering this round, both Long and Newby have their reservations. Long expresses concern over the trending performance of Kyle Busch and his Richard Childress Racing team. Busch had a rough first round, starting at the back of the field twice and struggling to score points in stages. While this team had a strong stretch earlier in the season, they seem to lack the speed of some of the other contenders in the playoffs.
Newby’s concern lies with Ryan Blaney and Team Penske. While Blaney has shown promise with wins at Talladega, the Roval, and the All-Star Race at Texas, his lack of consistency throughout the season raises a red flag. With several poor finishes and two DNFs in the last 14 races alone, Blaney will have to work his way up from below the cutline, making his path to the next round more challenging.
Another question revolves around Martin Truex Jr. and whether he can take advantage of the points reset. Long highlights the importance of the regular season and the points gained, as they can help teams overcome early playoff challenges. Truex and his team now have a second chance to perform better after a problematic first round. Although it seems unlikely that they will encounter as many issues, the onus is on them to make the most of this opportunity.
Newby also believes that Truex will capitalize on the points reset and advance to the Round of 8. While the Round of 12 includes tracks where Truex has never won in his 75 combined starts, it is highly unlikely that he will face the same number of issues as in the previous round. With solid performances, Truex can leverage his 25-point cushion above the cutline to secure his place in the next round.
As the Cup Series playoffs heat up, these pressing questions shed light on the current state of the drivers and their respective chances of advancing further. With each race becoming increasingly intense, the answers to these questions will ultimately determine who will continue to vie for the championship title.