Bump & Run: Who is in trouble in Cup playoffs?

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After Las Vegas, which driver(s) do you consider in trouble of not making the cut to the second round?

Nate Ryan: Anyone outside the grid now, so Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones will have to fight their way through the next two races. 

Dustin Long: Austin Dillon is 10th in the standings but his lead over some of the drivers outside a cutoff spot is slim and he’s not finished better than 13th on a short track this season heading into Richmond. There’s some work to do.  

Daniel McFadin: Despite benefitting from the bad luck of many playoff drivers Sunday and finishing 11th, I still think Austin Dillon is the most in danger of missing out. He’s never finished better than 13th at Richmond and he’s never finished in the top 10 on a road course in Cup.

Dan Beaver: Denny Hamlin took the biggest hit last week, dropping 20 points behind the cutoff line. The inconsistent finishes with the No. 11 team throughout 2018 puts him in a precarious position.

Have you bought in on Brad Keselowski joining the Big 3?

Nate Ryan: No, because as he readily admits, the speed still isn’t there. The execution has been flawless for three weeks, but that is unsustainable over the next the nine races. His No. 2 Ford will need to be a weekly top-five car by the Round of 8 to have a title shot. 

Dustin Long: No. The Big 3 was not created over three races but a much longer stretch. Keselowski’s run the last three weeks has been monumental but until he finds the speed to match the Big 3, he’s not there yet.

Daniel McFadin: Absolutely. With his win he joins Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick as the first trio of drivers to win three consecutive races in a season in NASCAR’s modern history. When you do that, you’re definitely the latest member of the “Big 4.”

Dan Beaver: Almost. Another top-five finish this week will push me over the edge, but it’s still hard to say that this is not just an incredibly successful wave of momentum. He hasn’t been particularly strong on short tracks this year with no top fives in four starts, so Richmond will be a big test.

The average number of cautions in the last five Richmond Cup races is 9.2. Are you taking the over or under on the number of cautions in Saturday night’s Cup race?

Nate Ryan: Under. I think the night races tend to be tamer at Richmond because the track has more grip. 

Dustin Long: Under. After the chaos of Las Vegas, things will calm down even with the Roval on the horizon.

Daniel McFadin: I’ll take the over. Why? Because drivers will be desperate to be anywhere near the front with the Roval on the horizon next weekend. Desperation will lead to chaos.

Dan Beaver: Seven of the 16 playoff contenders finished outside the top 20 last week and they are going to have a little extra desperation at Richmond. On a short track, that is a recipe for disaster. I’m taking the over.

What chances do you give Ross Chastain of winning two Xfinity races in a row in the No. 42 car Friday night at Richmond?

Nate Ryan: The competition will be virtually the same as at Las Vegas, so 50-50 seems about right. 

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson won the latest Xfinity short-track race in the No. 42 car at Bristol but the Joe Gibbs Racing cars have often been the class of the field at such tracks this season. Would give the JGR cars a little better chance than the No. 42 car this weekend.

Daniel McFadin: After his eye-opening performance in his first two starts at two different tracks, I’d say there’s a 85 percent chance he schools everyone like the four-year veteran he is.

Dan Beaver: Back-to-back wins are always tricky, but Chastain showed enough strength at Darlington and Las Vegas to make me believe he can win again.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Las Vegas

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Here’s who NBC’s writers think will triumph today at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch opens the playoffs with a win. If you’re looking to cash big, go with a trifecta of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney to go 1-2-3.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. This is his season, and he’ll set the tone in the opener.

Daniel McFadin

Ryan Newman plays spoiler in the playoff opener a day after announcing his departure from Richard Childress Racing.

Dan Beaver

The last time Erik Jones won a Cup pole, he finished second at Bristol last fall. A year’s worth of experience will make the difference at Vegas.

Bump & Run: Playoff predictions

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Which four drivers will fail to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs?

Nate Ryan: Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, Jimmie Johnson

Dustin Long: Austin Dillon, Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman

Daniel McFadin: Austin Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman and Aric Almirola make quiet exits following the race on the Charlotte Roval.

Dan Beaver: Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson and Aric Almirola: They are the low hanging fruit who also seem to have the least momentum.

What track will make more of an impact on the playoffs: Charlotte Roval, Talladega or Martinsville?

Nate Ryan: The Charlotte Roval has replaced Talladega as the largest X factor of the playoffs.

Dustin Long: Martinsville was tame in the spring but that will change in the fall. Just think about how last year’s fall race impacted the playoffs.

Daniel McFadin: Talladega, because of the “Big One” and the odds someone unexpected could win, including a non-playoff driver. That would change a lot of team’s outlooks for the cutoff race at Kansas.

Dan Beaver: Talladega. The Roval is an unknown, but if the drivers behave, it will act like most other road courses. Talladega will never be predictable as long as the restrictor-plate draft is so tight.

Which four drivers do you think will be racing for the title in Miami?

Nate Ryan: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney

Daniel McFadin: Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.

Dan Beaver: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott

What intrigues you the most about this year’s playoffs?

Nate Ryan: The overhaul of the first round.

Dustin Long: In a season where three drivers have been dominant, I’m intrigued to see who will be the driver (or drivers) who challenge them.

Daniel McFadin: That there’s more potential traps for teams, with the inclusion of the Roval in addition to Talladega, Martinsville and the addition of Richmond. Also, the penultimate race at Phoenix is on a new track configuration. Lots of new variables to take into account.

Dan Beaver: The new tracks on the schedule are a step in the right direction, but it would be nice if they were spread out across all three rounds instead of being crammed into Round 1.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Indianapolis

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Here’s who NBC’s writers think will triumph today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Dustin Long

Ryan Newman pulls off the upset special.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. He backs up his speed from Pocono Raceway for his first Brickyard win in 15 years.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. begins Furniture Row Racing’s farewell tour with a big win.

Dan Beaver

Kyle Busch was one incident away from potentially getting a fourth straight top-two finish last year.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Analyzing Cup playoff drivers, Xfinity Scan All

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Host Krista Voda is joined by Parker Kligerman and Landon Cassill in Stamford, Connecticut, while Steve Letarte joins from Burton’s Garage on today’s NASCAR America. Today’s show airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

On the show:

  • 12 drivers have qualified for the Monster Energy Cup Series playoffs. But even in this group, some drivers haven’t been setting the track on fire, as of late. With 2 races to go in the regular season, we’ll break down who’s in most desperate need of momentum.
  • The Xfinity Series gets the spotlight all to itself in our ‘Tuesday Tradition.’ We’ve got the best sights and sounds from the Wisconsin woods in Scan All: Road America.
  • Parker and Landon get in the NBCSN I-Racing Simulator to show us the myriad challenges that drivers will face over 500 miles Sunday night at Darlington.
  • And get a sneak peek of the latest Dale Jr. Download, as Junior welcomes Cup Series veteran Kasey Kahne to the podcast.