Major Cup Stars In Need Of Big Nights At Richmond

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 9 2017

Dale Earnhardt Jr. needs to win at Richmond to advance to the 16-driver Cup playoffs. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular-season finale at Richmond Raceway Saturday night will determine the field of 16 championship contenders.

Having trouble deciphering who’s in/who’s out/who’s on the proverbial bubble? Here are the basics, courtesy of Info Manager.

The Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m., EDT, NBC Sports Network and SiriusXM Radio and MRN) will start with three drivers currently on the playoff bubble and a slew of others _ including NASCAR stars Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth and Chase Elliott _ looking to secure the final spot.  

NASCAR has placed a premium on winning this season, with a victory guaranteeing a driver a berth in the playoffs. Thirteen drivers have punched their tickets with wins, leaving three spots up for grabs at Richmond.

The introduction of stage formats and debut of playoff points this season has added another layer to the postseason picture. One playoff point is awarded for a stage win and five points for a race win during the regular season and playoffs, excluding the championship race.

Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. has clinched the regular-season championship in his No. 78 Toyota Camry as a result of his four victories, earning 15 playoff points. Additional playoff points are awarded to the second through 10th-place finishers in the standings following Saturday night’s race. Second place earns 10 playoff points, third receives eight and the points decrease by one to 10th.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are scheduled to begin Sunday, Sept. 17, at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., and include a stop at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth for the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday, Nov. 5. The title will be decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 19.

Here is the pre-Richmond outlook for the field and their playoff-clinching scenarios:

Drivers locked into the playoffs as a result of a victory this season _ Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing (four wins); Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports and Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing (three wins); Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing; Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing; Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing and Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing (two wins); Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing; Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing; Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing; Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports and Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing (one win).

Three points separate the final three playoff contenders. These three drivers momentarily are safe from elimination, but a victory from a driver currently winless will put one of them on the outside.

Drivers on the playoff bubble with their clinching scenarios:

Chase Elliott (737 Points) _ The Hendrick Motorsports prodigy would clinch on points with 53 despite a new winner. If there is a repeat winner, Elliott would clinch on points, regardless of finish. With a win in his No. 24 Chevrolet SS, Elliott would clinch a playoff berth on wins.

Matt Kenseth (735 Points) _ Matty K. will start on-pole tonight in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry. If there is a repeat winner, the veteran free-agent-to-be would clinch on points regardless of finish. With a win, the 2003 Cup Series champ would clinch a playoff spot on wins. Kenseth also could clinch on points with a new winner, but would need help.

Jamie McMurray (734 Points) _ If there is a repeat winner, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver would clinch on points regardless of finish. With a win in his No. 1 Chevrolet SS, McMurray would clinch a playoff spot on wins. He also could clinch on points with a new winner, but would need help.

Drivers needing a win to advance include _Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports; Joey Logano, Penske Racing; Clint Bowyer, Stewart-Haas Racing; Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing; Daniel Suarez, Joe Gibbs Racing; Trevor Bayne, Roush Fenway Racing; Paul Menard, Richard Childress Racing; Ty Dillon, Richard Childress Racing; Chris Buescher, JTG Daugherty Racing; Michael McDowell, Leavine Family Racing; AJ Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing ; Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing and David Ragan, Front Row Motorsports.  

Earnhardt, NASCAR’s most popular driver and who is retiring after the season, was asked about winning and earning a berth.

“I haven’t thought about any fairytales and it’s not been exhausting at all,” he said. “It has been a big relief to finally have an end date and a decision made and knowing that is it.  The reaction from the fans and everything that I’ve experienced from week to week has been really uplifting.  It’s been a positive, fun experience.  You know the results are not great, but I’ve dealt with that in my career in the past.  I know how to deal with that emotionally and personally and I know how to work through it.  So, that has not been that difficult to be honest with you.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 9 2017
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