NASCAR America: Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones may struggle to advance in the playoffs

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With one race remaining in Round 1 of the 2018 NASCAR playoffs, the four drivers outside of 12th are in jeopardy of being eliminated from championship contention. Three of these drivers were originally picked by NASCAR America analyst Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett to go further.

Denny Hamlin is 16th in the standings, 29 points behind the cutoff. Erik Jones is 21 points in arrears and Clint Bowyer is four points behind.

On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, Letarte and Jarrett weighed the odds that these drivers could overcome their deficit.

“I don’t think (Hamlin) can make up 29 points,” Letarte said. “I think his playoff is coming to an end. That’s probably my biggest shock.”

Jarrett was a little less surprised that Hamlin finds himself on the outside looking in.

“I didn’t have Denny going all that far unless they made a lot of changes and got their cars better during races,” Jarrett said. “They found speed, but that speed’s not translating to good finishes.”

Hamlin has a mathematical chance to get into Round 2. Coming to a race that many feel is going to be a wild card, that might be all it takes. If Hamlin can earn points in both stages and pull out a top-five finish, he will put pressure on the drivers on the positive side of the bubble.

Likewise, Jones has a big hole from which to climb. This is his first playoff appearance and his lack of experience could impede his progress.

“I’m one that had Erik Jones going a long way in my playoffs – to the Championship Four,” Jarrett said. “So that was a little bit of a surprise to me that his first two races – and obviously the one at Vegas, he got caught up in someone else’s problems, but seeing him sitting there with a pretty insurmountable points deficit. Sunday, I think is going to be pretty difficult.”

Letarte and Jarrett both believe that Bowyer can make up his four points.

Bowyer finds himself outside the top 12 because he has lost momentum in the past several races.

“Bowyer? You expect him to run well, but you just never know,” Letarte said. “Bowyer’s kind of a streaky driver … he kind of got on a cold streak.”

Even so, Letarte thinks Bowyer has the strength of will to advance.

Jarrett agrees. Bowyer’s 23rd-place finish at Vegas came because he was involved in an accident late in the race. He finished 10th at Richmond.

If Bowyer advances, Letarte thinks the battle for the last playoff spot will come down to Austin Dillon or Alex Bowman.

For more, watch the video above.

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