NASCAR & Auto Racing

Handicapping NASCAR’s playoffs: Who can make it out of the second round?

A few thoughts as the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs head into the second round, beginning Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway:

The first round, which ended with Chase Elliott’s dramatic victory at Charlotte’s Roval, didn’t do much to separate the favorites from the pretenders. Expect these seven guys — Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Elliott — to be among those who advance to the eight-driver third round.

That leaves one spot open, right? That’s what will make the second race of this round — at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway — so intriguing. Talladega, like the Roval, will be the wildcard, with any and everything bound to happen. Look for Alex Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer or Ryan Blaney to go all out for a win at Talladega, a feat that would clinch a spot in the third round. The second round concludes at Kansas Speedway.

Bowman might need to be driving with one eye over his shoulder. He’s had run-ins during the last two races with non-playoff drivers Austin Dillon at Richmond and Bubba Wallace at Charlotte. It would be poor form for Dillon or Wallace to do anything on-track to jeopardize Bowman’s chances in the playoffs, but stranger things have happened.

NASCAR, incidentally, was expected to speak to Wallace this week about his post-race behavior at Charlotte, when he threw water in the face of Bowman, who was being treated for dehydration.

After a down spell that began in 2018 and crept into the first part of this season, Hendrick Motorsports and its stable of young drivers continues to become more competitive. Nowhere was that more apparent than at Charlotte, where Hendrick’s Byron won the pole, and teammates Elliott and Bowman finished 1-2. All three advanced in the playoffs.

The graybeard of the team — seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson — stayed near the lead for much of the Charlotte race and finished ninth. Although he’s missing the playoffs for the first time, Johnson finished 11th at Las Vegas and 10th at Richmond and has shown flashes of his old self. Dover, where he’s won 11 times, might be his favorite track.

David Scott: @davidscott14

This week’s NASCAR race at Dover: What you need to know.

Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Drydene 400.

Distance: 400 laps, or 400 miles.

Where: Dover (Del.) International Speedway, a 1-mile concrete oval.

When: 2:30 p.m., Sunday.

TV: NBCSN

Radio: MRN.

Last year’s winner: Chase Elliott.

Also this week: Bar Harbor 200, Xfinity Series, Dover International Speedway, 2:30 p.m., Saturday, NBCSN.

Worth mentioning: The second round of the Cup Series playoffs takes the green flag ... Non-playoff driver Aric Almirola won last week’s Xfinity Series race at Charlotte.

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not

HOT

Chase Elliott: Won last season’s fall Dover race, and is coming off a victory at Charlotte, too.

Alex Bowman: Charged into the second round with stirring final stage performance at Charlotte’s Roval. Can he keep that momentum going?

NOT

Kurt Busch: Was optimistic heading into playoffs, but was eliminated after 20th-place finish at Charlotte.

Erik Jones: Needed to win at Charlotte to advance in playoffs, but day was over barely after it started when he had to leave the race early with punctured radiator.

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