Talladega chaos means the charge to fill the eight-driver field for the third round of the playoffs could be pretty dramatic at Kansas.
With Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski locked in to the third round thanks to their wins at Charlotte and Talladega, there are six spots left to be filled on Sunday. And with 30 points separating third through 10th in the standings — remember the max total a driver can earn in a race is 60 — there’s a pretty good chance a driver currently on the outside of the top eight will advance to the third round.
That could be good news for Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. And bad news for Jimmie Johnson or Ryan Blaney. Here’s how the points standings look heading into the sixth race of the playoffs and the chances we think each driver has of advancing
3. Kyle Larson, 3,096 points: Larson has the best odds of anyone thanks to his top-15 finish at Talladega despite some serious crash damage. He’s consistently had the fastest Chevrolet at intermediate tracks this season and that bodes well for Sunday, though he has just two top-10 finishes in seven starts at Kansas. Only disaster keeps Larson out of the third round. Chance of advancing: 85 percent
4. Kevin Harvick, 3,089: Harvick has finished third at Chicago and Charlotte so far in the playoffs. Oh, and he finished third at Kansas earlier in the season. A third-place finish easily puts him into the third round and given Harvick’s consistency, it wouldn’t be surprising in the slightest to see it happen. Chance of advancing: 85 percent
5. Denny Hamlin, 3,088: Hamlin finished a place behind Harvick at Chicago and Charlotte and has won at Kansas before. He finished 15th at Kansas a year ago and was second in 2014. As long as his pit-road speeding habits from a year ago don’t come back, he should be in good shape too. Chance of advancing: 75 percent
6. Chase Elliott, 3,087: Spoiler tape aside, Elliott’s team has found speed at intermediate tracks in the playoffs. He was second at Charlotte after his encumbered second-place finish at Charlotte. The odds are against it, but you may want to go place a bet on a top four of Truex Jr., Elliott, Harvick and Hamlin happening for a third-straight 1.5-mile race. It’d probably have a nice payout. Chance of advancing: 70 percent
7. Ryan Blaney, 3,076: Here’s where the odds start to decrease significantly. Blaney has shown speed on intermediate tracks this year, but there’s no denying that the cars at Joe Gibbs Racing have been faster, especially recently. Blaney is close enough to Kyle Busch in the points standings that Busch could win a stage or two and leap over Blaney even if he doesn’t win the race. And there’s that whole Jimmie Johnson factor too. Chance of advancing: 65 percent
8. Jimmie Johnson, 3,074: Do you want to bet against Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus in an elimination race? If Johnson qualifies in the top five on Friday he’s going to be a great bet to score some needed stage points in the first stage. That’s been his nemesis all year. He started 14th at Chicago and 25th at Charlotte before getting top-10 finishes in each. Chance of advancing: 75 percent
9. Kyle Busch, 3,067: Busch started in the top five at Chicago and Charlotte and also started fifth at Kansas in the spring. He won the first stage in two of those races and it’s easy to see him doing that again. Oh, and he won at Kansas in 2016. What we’re saying is that despite his position outside the top eight, we’re bullish on his chances of getting through either with a win or on points. Chance of advancing: 70 percent
10. Matt Kenseth, 3,066: Kenseth could point himself into the third round, but it seems a bit of a stretch for him to get his first win of the season in a situation like this. It would be one hell of a story if he did, however, given how getting spun out of the lead in 2015 at Kansas started the downward spiral of his title chances. Chance of advancing: 55 percent
11. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 3,052: This is where things start to get farfetched. Stenhouse needed to win or at least have a much better showing than he did at Talladega. Asking him to score a bunch of points at an intermediate track is a stretch. He needs some serious help from other drivers having bad days. Chance of advancing: 15 percent
12. Jamie McMurray, 3,045: McMurray needs to win. He’s not mathematically eliminated, but the odds are poor. And McMurray hasn’t won yet this year. Finishing 8th probably isn’t going to cut it. Chance of advancing: 5 percent
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