With one race down in the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, the 16-driver field already has some competitors sweating their postseason positioning while others surprisingly find themselves on the right side of the bubble … for now.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway saw four playoff drivers finish 19th or worse, including the regular-season champion, so NASCAR.com’s Pat DeCola and Terrin Waack make their cases for which drivers are most likely to rally after a poor opener heading to Richmond Raceway (Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
DeCOLA: Martin Truex Jr. was the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver smiling after Sunday night’s Las Vegas race, but I suspect the powerhouse organization will rebound in a big way on Saturday night in Virginia. Erik Jones is the one that needs a spark the most, as our current last-place playoff driver.
The victim of some serious bad luck lately, Jones feels more like the driver who won at Darlington than the driver with a best finish of 18th in the other four of his past five races.
JGR has shown dominance at Richmond in the past and his above-average history there combined with a bit of desperation make me think he’ll be a lot closer to making the Round of 12 after the checkered flag falls this weekend.
WAACK: The fire has been lit, so watch out or get burned. Kyle Busch is going to Richmond with a vengeance. The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota ended up 19th at Las Vegas, his fourth-worst finish of the entire season. He also dropped from the top spot in the championship standings to fourth, which ties his lowest rank in 2019.
Safe to say he isn’t happy — proof can be found here, here and here — and an unhappy Busch is a motivated Busch. Kind of like the one who has won at Richmond six times and twice in the past three Cup races alone. Or the one who has averaged a 7.0 finish at the 0.75-mile track in Virginia.
Busch has made the Championship 4 every year since his championship in 2015. Las Vegas was just a bump in the road for the 2019 regular-season champion.