KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Under the previous playoff format, Kyle Busch would be facing likely elimination from the playoffs if he didn’t win Sunday at Kansas.
But thanks to the tweaks NASCAR made to its points and playoff format for the 2017 season, it’s entirely possible Busch could make it to the third round of the playoffs with a top 10 or even top-15 finish.
Busch has scored just 26 points out of a possible 120 available through the first two races of the first round. He hit the wall multiple times at Charlotte and got caught in a big crash at Talladega. Yet he’s just seven points back of eighth-place Jimmie Johnson for the final spot in the third round of the playoffs entering Sunday’s race.
“I reiterate the fact that it sucks that you work all year long in order to build your point cushion and your stage points and your race wins and everything for Talladega, because everybody knows for Talladega we’re all building that,” Busch said of the track that has tormented him during the playoffs. “Then I have Charlotte happen. Unfortunately, it’s my fault that we had Charlotte happen. If we would have finished eighth, let’s say, at Charlotte, we wouldn’t be talking about it. We would have used up our point cushion that we had at Talladega like we built it for. ”
The 2015 champion carried a whopping 41 points into the second round, more than any other driver not named Martin Truex Jr. Busch’s bonus point total was 24 more than Jimmie Johnson’s and 33 more than Ryan Blaney. Without those points, he’s not within striking distance of either of them. In the prior three years of the elimination format bonus points earned in the regular season weren’t carried over past the first round.
Busch still has to have a good race on Sunday to make up for the previous two races and advance in the playoffs. But he’s buoyed by how good he was in the regular season.
“It gives somebody a shot to make it in to the final round who has had a great season but not a guarantee,” Brad Keselowski told Yahoo Sports when asked about his views of the new format halfway through the playoffs. “I think sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers but if there’s one thing you can tell going into this weekend that even with all the bonus points that a guy like Kyle Busch has, that doesn’t make you invulnerable. If you still have bad races, you’re going to be in trouble.”
Busch won the first stage in the spring at Kansas and finished fifth. He earned 48 points. A similar showing — based off where Johnson and Blaney (two points ahead of Johnson) finish could be enough to advance.
“I guess I look at it as out-finishing [Johnson] and [Blaney] by three, four spots each stage, each round, in order to make up enough points to pass them both,” Busch said. “Whether that’s doable or not, we’ll see.”
For his part, Johnson is viewing Sunday’s race as a win-and-in given the intermediate track strength of Busch and his teammate Matt Kenseth, who is one point behind Busch.
“I could go out there and put myself in a nice position in the points and maintain this eighth-place on the bubble and Matt or Kyle wins and shifts that whole thing down. So, it’s going to be a challenging weekend. We need to hit the track with the mindset of winning largely because of the two, speaking of Matt and Kyle, those guys are both capable of winning here and shifting the points all around.”
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