Bump & Run: Which drivers will not advance to Round of 8?

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Brad Keslowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman enter Kansas outside the transfer spot to the next round. Who are the four drivers you think will not advance this weekend at Kansas Speedway?

Nate Ryan: Probably these four. Blaney and Keselowski could advance on points but will need to run well and get some major help from those above the cut line. Larson and Bowman will advance only by winning, and the odds of that are only realistic for Larson.

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski. Kyle Larson was strong at Kansas in May and should provide a valiant run but he’s in essentially a must-win situation and it will be hard to beat Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. at that track.

Daniel McFadin: Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson.

Dan Beaver: Blaney, Larson and Bowman effectively need a win to advance and they have not shown enough consistent strength on the 1.5-mile tracks to get that done at Kansas. Keselowski and Truex have – and after two frustrating weeks, they will do enough to get into the next round. That leaves Clint Bowyer as the odd man out. Kansas may be his home track, but it has not been particularly welcoming since 2013.

After nearly winning at Dover and then winning at Talladega, how do you rate Aric Almirola’s championship chances?

Nate Ryan: Still fair to middling. He will likely run well at Texas and possibly Phoenix but Martinsville (three top 10s in 19 starts) will be a challenge.

Dustin Long: Better than it was two weeks ago but still not among the favorites.

Daniel McFadin: 65 percent. Phoenix and Kansas are among his top nine tracks in average finishes, but he’s finished in the top 10 at Texas once and Homestead twice (in 2010 and 2012). Almirola hasn’t finished in the top 10 at Martinsville since 2014.

Dan Beaver: Almirola has not been able to sustain momentum for very long in 2018. Unless he wins at Kansas, he’ll enter Round 3 with less than 10 bonus points and that is going to make it difficult for him to advance. Almirola’s odds of winning a championship are low.

Do you rate Aric Almirola’s title chances better than any of the Big 3 drivers? Why or why not?

Nate Ryan: No. It still seems better than 50-50 odds that Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. all advance to the championship round, partly because of their playoff points cushion but also because the five remaining tracks (three 1.5-mile ovals) lay out well for the trio.

Dustin Long: Still a gap between the Big 3 and the rest of the playoff field.

Daniel McFadin: Less. Kevin Harvick is the biggest threat at Phoenix and he hasn’t finished outside the top 10 there in the last 10 years. And with 1.5-mile tracks in the form of Texas, Kansas and Homestead, you have to believe the Big 3 are the favorites regardless of how well Almirola is doing.

Dan Beaver: Almirola had a couple of strong runs at Homestead with Richard Petty Motorsports including a fourth in 2010. He has only three top-fives this year – none of which came on 1.5-mile tracks. He won’t be able to outrun Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch in the finale.

What did you think of the Talladega race?

Nate Ryan: It was unlike anything at that 2.66-mile oval in nearly a half-century – look no further than the 15 lead changes being the fewest since 1973. Based off fan and driver reaction, NASCAR assuredly will take steps to improve the stability of the cars for a return to pack racing and nonstop drafting in 2019.

Dustin Long: An unusual race because of rule changes this season that made the cars so hard to drive. At the end it was still the same Talladega — chaos.

Daniel McFadin: It was by far the most fascinating Talladega race in recent memory, despite the fewest lead changes in a Cup race there since 1973. Seeing the Stewart-Haas Racing cars pull ahead of the field by at least a dozen car lengths at times was an echo of plate races there when Y2K was a threat. I’m completely game for a superspeedway race where the field isn’t one giant blob that’s only broken up by large crashes.

Dan Beaver: I’ve learned to never be surprised by anything that happens at Talladega. The four-car domination by the Stewart-Haas drivers was interesting, but it wasn’t very entertaining to watch. 

Drivers in danger of being eliminated from Cup playoffs at Kansas

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The Cup playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway is over and unless you were a driver for Stewart-Haas Racing, not much good happened to the 12 driver playoff field.

Aric Almirola won and joined Chase Elliott in the third round.

That leaves 10 drivers scrambling for the remaining six spots.

Outside the top eight, Kyle Larson (26 points behind cutoff) and specifically Alex Bowman (68) are in must-win scenarios as the bottom two drivers.

But who else is feeling the heat of maybe missing out on the next round after Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC)?

Clint Bowyer (21 points above cutoff spot)

Bowyer entered Talladega below the cutoff with Almirola and is in a better position after finishing second in both stages and the race.

He will look to make his spot in Round 3 permanent with a win in Kansas, which would be his first at his home track.

In his last three Kansas starts, Bowyer’s best finish was ninth in the spring 2017 race. He placed 19th and 15th in the next two.

“After the frustrating run at Dover, I had to gain some points,”  Bowyer said. “It didn’t do any good to get good stage points if the guys that I’m racing for this next round do it, as well.  I had to get separated some way, shape or form.

“I mean, that guy sitting in Victory Lane right there (Almirola), as happy as I am for him, that’s a spot that just went away for that next round.

“We have to go home, at Kansas take care of business.  I think we can do that.  We needed an opportunity here.”

Martin Truex Jr. (+18)

After a “miserable” run at Talladega ended in a 23rd-place finish, Truex is likely looking forward to a 1.5-mile track.

Truex owns the final transfer spot on the playoff grid entering Kansas – where he’s won two of the last three races and finished second in the spring.

“I think that’s a good place for us even if we had to win,” Truex said after Talladega. “I am not saying we’re going to go there and win. But anytime we can go to any of those tracks, I feel like we have a shot. It’s racing. A lot can happen as we saw today. We’ll give it everything we got and bring a great car to Kansas. We’ll try to get the checkered flag.”

Brad Keselowski (18 points below the cutoff spot)

The Team Penske driver and defending race winner saw his hopes of winning in Talladega vanish when he had to pit for fuel coming to the green flag in overtime. He finished 27th after he led 21 laps.

Keselowski is now on the outside looking into the top eight despite having won three of five races in September, including the playoff opener.

Keselowski has one top five in his last five Kansas starts (second in spring 2017). He’s placed 13th and 14th in the last two visits.

Ryan Blaney (-22)

After winning at the Charlotte Roval to advance to Round 2, Blaney’s playoff hopes are looking a bit dire.

Like Keselowski, Blaney also had to pit for fuel coming to the overtime restart.

As a result, Blaney has finishes of 11th (Dover) and 29th (Talladega) entering Kansas.

Like Truex, Blaney has some positive recent history at the 1.5-mile track.

He finished fourth and third there last year.

In May, Blaney led 54 laps before he was eliminated in an incident with Kyle Larson with 20 laps to go. He finished 37th.

Below is the playoff grid heading into Kansas.

What drivers said after the Cup race at Talladega

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Aric Almirola — Winner: “I felt like I kept giving it away and I was so disappointed for all these guys behind me because they’re awesome. They’re the best. I’m with the best team in the garage and I felt like I kept letting them down not winning a race. Today, the Good Lord was shining on us and we went to Victory Lane. We did it, finally.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 2nd: “Man, that was about as easy of a Talladega race as I have ever experienced. What a day to be in a Ford! Every time I looked in my mirror it was a wave of blue ovals. What a day for SHR, too. That was all about cooperation. There’s no way you could overstate how good our cars were today. We finished second in both stages and the race, so that’s a pretty good day for us. We’ll go to Kansas and get a good run and make sure we are in the Round of 8 after next weekend.” 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 3rd: “We definitely had to fight hard today. We weren’t near as good as we normally are at the speedways, so that was a real bummer, but we fought hard and made a lot of adjustments to try and make our car faster. It seemed to work a little bit there and obviously fell on the lucky side of having to pit and having enough fuel, so everything worked out good for us today to get that good finish and back-to-back top 10s is a start.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 4th: “I thought we were the next best in line today. The Ford cars seemed to have a little more speed than us. We stayed disciplined and in line there. We chose the right line when the lines came. Got a great top-five finish today. We were almost the best in class there.”

Joey Logano — Finished 5th: “Those Stewart-Haas cars drove great and they were really, really fast. They showed it in qualifying and they were so committed to each other and they did a great job. They probably would have finished 1-2-3-4 if they didn’t run out of gas, so they were definitely quick. We had a pretty good Shell/Pennzoil Ford, not the winning car, but definitely a top-five car, the best of the rest you could call it. We scored some stage points and then a solid top five, so I’m proud of that. I don’t know where that puts us in points, but I think it puts us in a decent spot to where we can go to Kansas and race hard, so not that we didn’t race hard today, but it was just gonna take a lot to beat the teamwork and the cars that they had today.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 6th: “I thought prior to the final restart I got myself in a good position on the outside there. It just seemed like every time the line went to move somebody made a move and it checked the lineup. I was just getting pinned out there. I thought my car handled good compared to the guys I was around. I thought that was our strength. And then the No. 88 (Alex Bowman) got turned, I saw him get turned and figured at some point he was going to come snapping back up the race track and I was like to say that was skill missing that, but it was pretty much luck that he didn’t hit me. The final restart was just trying to pick a lane. A couple of guys ran out of fuel coming to the green, so we got to move up a couple of rows and then it was just trying to pick the right lane coming to the checkered. For once we didn’t wreck at Talladega, so that is a good day.” 

Kyle Larson — Finished 11th: “We just had a terrible race car and were really slow all weekend. We were able to salvage a decent finish, but the Fords are so fast here and can rack up a lot of stage points. Even when they have a bad day, they still gain points on us. It is what it is. We’ll just go to Kansas and try and win.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 14th: There was two missed calls by NASCAR at the end. Why did we have an extra yellow flag lap is beyond me. The track was ready to go. And at the end. Once we crossed the white flag, if there’s a wreck and an ambulance needs to be dispatched. I’ve been on the other side of that where I was racing coming back to win the race and they said ‘Well, we had to dispatch an ambulance.’ There was two cars dead in the water.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 15th: “This was a solid day for our GEICO Camaro ZL1 team. We didn’t make any mistakes on track. My spotter did a great job and kept me clean all day. Talladega has always been a strong track for me because I’m comfortable with this style of racing. This was the kind of day our team needed after a couple of tough weeks. We ran up front, earned a bonus point at the end of Stage 1 and showed once again that Germain Racing builds fast superspeedway cars. I wish we could’ve gotten a top 10, but those are the brakes sometimes at these tracks with how quickly drafts change and cars move around. I’m proud of my team’s effort today, and I’m looking forward to Kansas next weekend.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 15th: “To he honest, I was worried at the start of the race because the American Ethanol Camaro ZL1 was not handling very well. My crew chief, Justin Alexander, and the team worked hard to fine-tune our Chevy throughout the race and we were able to earn some Stage points at the end of Stage 2. We opted to hang back in Stage 3 in anticipation of ‘The Big One.’ We knew that if we could avoid that, we would have a solid shot at the end. It didn’t work out quite the way we hoped with a relatively calm race and not enough laps to get to the front at the end. You win some, you lose some.”

William Byron — Finished 20th: “It was good. I thought my goal was really to survive. We were fortunate to lead some laps when we got the track position, which was good. Just couldn’t get enough guys to work with me. Hopefully, next year will be different with the rookie stripes off, it should make a difference, but other than that I thought our day was good. Got the car better handling-wise, handling was pretty important and then from there we just were kind of trying to fight for track position. I was able to bring it home, which was good.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 23rd: “It didn’t really matter what we did to the car. It didn’t go away. We tried a lot of stuff. It was tough to drive. It couldn’t even go straight. I could run hard for two or three laps. As soon as the tires got some air pressure, I was just hanging on. The longer the runs were, the worse it got. There was no chance of me just getting up there and racing. I wanted to. Luckily, we were able to get some tires there in the end. I could go for about three laps. I felt good going to the green-white checkered. They wrecked in front of us and we barely made it through. As soon as we got through there, I was able to salvage something.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 25th: “Before the final stage, we did a fuel-only pit stop to give us options later in the race. We were in lucky dog position for the final 20 laps and eventually caught a break to put us on the lead lap with two laps remaining. However, in overtime I was caught in a wreck and the car was heavily damaged. I know we were better than where we finished, P25. Sometimes the dominoes just don’t fall your way. We’ll be ready for Kansas next week and hopefully string together some solid runs to close out the year.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 26th: “We tried everything today and struggled to get up front.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 27th: “We ran out of gas from what I could tell, so we’ll go through and look at it and see.” 

Kevin Harvick — Finished 28th: “I’m just really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing. Mine sputtered there on the fuel pressure and it dropped down in the red and they did the right thing of coming in and pitting and not taking a chance. You just need to put yourself in a position to where you’re good for next week and just glad that one of our cars won and happy for Aric.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 31st: “Yeah, I mean it is what it is. We were far enough back in the pack where if it does happen you are probably going to be in it. Yeah, it happens.”

Results, stats for the Cup race at Talladega

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Aric Almirola passed a fuel-starved Kurt Busch in Turn 4 on the final lap of  the 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway to win his first race of the season and advance to the third round of the playoffs.

Teammate Clint Bowyer followed him across the line.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano rounded out the top five.

Stewart-Haas Racing started first through fourth and ran that way for most of the race. With less than 10 laps remaining, they separated from the field – building an advantage of more than 20-car-lengths with five to go.

That advantage was erased with three laps remaining when Alex Bowman spun and brought out the caution.

Kurt Busch fell to 14th on the final lap. Teammate Kevin Harvick pitted as the field was about to take the green flag. He finished 28th.

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Points after the Cup race at Talladega

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Aric Almirola saved enough gas and took the lead from his teammate Kurt Busch when the No. 41 ran out of fuel exiting Turn 4 on the last lap. His win advances him to Round 3.

Dover winner Chase Elliott almost spun when Alex Bowman brought out a caution with three laps remaining in regulation. He pitted for fresh tires. He spun on the final lap and finished 31st, one lap off the pace.

Kevin Harvick won Stage 2.  He was forced to pit as the green flag waved in the overtime finish. Despite running in the top four most of the afternoon, he finished 28th.

Kyle Busch struggled with handling issues most of the afternoon. Mired in the pack, he sustained damage during the last-lap crash and finished 26th.

Joey Logano entered Talladega with a two-race streak of top fives on this track. He extended that streak with a fifth-place finish.

Kurt Busch won the pole and Stage 1. After the race, he was critical of NASCAR for two calls that impacted the finish. Busch finished 14th.

Clint Bowyer claimed to need a win at the beginning of the weekend, but a good points day was enough. He finished second in both stages and the race. 

Martin Truex Jr. ran in the back half of the pack for much of Stages 1 and 2. He complained about something “banging in the rear” during the second stage. He was involved in the last lap crash, but continued around the track to finish in 23rd.

Below the cutoff line

Brad Keselowski did not score any playoff points. He fell to 27th on the last lap and fell 18 points below the bubble.

Ryan Blaney faltered as the field came to green during the overtime attempt. He finished 29th.

Kyle Larson battled an ill-handling car during the first two stages. He spun with seven laps remaining in Stage 2 and tore up his right front fender. Larson finished just outside the top 10 in 11th.

Alex Bowman spun with three laps remaining and collected JJ Yeley and William Byron. Bowman sustained significant damage and finished two laps off the pace in 33rd.

Click here for complete points