What drivers said after Richmond

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(Finishing positions have been updated to reflect Erik Jones‘ disqualification)

Martin Truex Jr. – winner:Man, I don’t know what to say, I really don’t. I’m speechless, just an unbelievable job by all my guys. Toyota, TRD, Bass Pro, Auto Owners, everybody back at the shop, you guys built some unbelievable race cars right now. Had a heck of a race with Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin) all night long really, and we just kept plugging away at it, kept plugging away at it, as we always do. We just keep digging and we never quit. Next thing you know, catching (Busch( for the lead, I’m like, ‘cool, all right, here we go.’ Man, to sweep Richmond finally is pretty awesome, as much as we’ve led here coming into this year, and just thanks to everybody. It’s pretty amazing. … (On the spin and coming back to win) Luckily I didn’t hit anything. I just tried to keep it off the fence, tried to get spun around and get going, and we ended up – because we were pretty far up front, we got going in a pretty good spot and left pit road in a good position and then good adjustments at the end again by (crew chief) Cole (Pearn) and James and the guys. This is just freaking unbelievable, so we came here to get bonus points and damn sure we did that”

Kyle Busch – finished second:I don’t think we were as good as him all night long. Martin, the car, the combination thereof, us, the combination of, just lacked a little bit. You know, like (Hamlin) lacked a little bit more than us. Just weird, I don’t know. We led a lot of laps. We were up front a lot. But when I was out front, he could keep the closest distance to me. That kind of worried me for a finish like that in the long run. But our M&M’s guys did a great job, and we brought a fast race car here to Richmond, and I think all the JGR cars were pretty respectable there, so really awesome job by everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota, and being able to have some really good pieces to go out there and race with.

(You’re now locked in to the second round. How do you treat next week’s Roval race at Charlotte) Last year I thought we were going to be all right and finish okay, but then we all decided to follow everybody else off a cliff. It was pretty ugly. But overall just – you try to go into that race, it’s a newer type of track, and I don’t know that everybody has got it quite figured out exactly yet. With this new aero package it’s going to be different and of course, too, with the new chicane it’s going to be different. We can go out there and attack it and try to try to get a win, try to get some stage points, get ourselves a bit of a cushion here, I guess, more over the rest of the guys.”

Denny Hamlin – finished third:Just seemed like the long run speed they really had quite a bit more and a little bit more turn, a little bit more forward drive, just everything – every little bit. It just seemed like it was about a half a tenth a lap there on average, and (Truex) just had a really good long-run car. We were kind of third best there, that’s kind of where we ended up. Happy with maximizing the day that I thought I was capable of, and good effort, and we’ll go to the Roval and have some fun now. … (You’re now 55 points above the cut line. How much assurance does that give you going to the Roval?) Pretty sure. You know, just go there, run a normal race, everything should be fine. We just try to move to the next round and go to work from there. I think we’re really close to where we need to be. Every time we come back to a track for the second time, it seems like we run quite a bit better. Tonight we were just a hair off.”

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. completes Richmond sweep with playoff win

MORE: Results, points after 2nd race of Cup playoffs at Richmond

MORE: NASCAR disqualifies Erik Jones’ car for failing inspection

Brad Keselowski – finished fourth:It’s definitely not good news. We’ve got work to do. They’re really strong and we’re not where we need to be to be able to beat them heads-up, but we threw everything we had at them. We put down a great qualifying lap, got the first pit stall, had great pit stops and got to the lead, but just didn’t have the raw speed to keep it. … We led 80-some laps, so it’s not a bad day but just not nearly fast enough to dominate the race and win.”

Ryan Newman – finished fifth: “It was just a good team effort, good pit stops. The strategy wasn’t a whole lot to it, just put four tires on, but had a good short-run car. One time we had a good long-run car, but we could never get both. I think that if we would have had both we could have ran with those guys, but we were at our best probably when we were just hold good bias to a long-run car, but who would have known there were gonna be that many green flag runs. … (Good points night?) Yeah, but I would have much rather won.

(Is this the best performance of the year?) Yeah, without a doubt. The best team performance all-around throughout the entire weekend. We failed at qualifying. We got the car too tight, but, overall, just a great team effort to get the Roush Performance Ford a good run. What meant to me the most probably was just being better than we were the first race. We ran ninth in the first race and qualified (24th) we came back and showed that we were learning and we’ll keep learning. … (Are you looking forward to the Roval?) I don’t know that I’m looking forward to the Roval, I don’t really know anybody that actually is, except for maybe Truex.”

Kyle Larson – finished sixth: “If maybe I could have gotten a better restart there that last time, I could have been a spot or two better. But, we ran better than I thought I would. At the beginning of the race I was kind of falling back. But, then we made it better each stop. Actually, I had a pretty good car in the long run there at the end. So, I was happy about that. And, I haven’t seen the points, but it seemed like a lot of guys had a bad night. So, I’m sure we gained a little bit on the cutoff, so that’s always good.

(How do you take this into the Roval?) Yeah, just have another clean run. Just don’t make any mistakes. We didn’t make any mistakes tonight. Our pit crew was really good tonight, with the exception of one stop. But, other than that, we gained spots every time and we might have even gained spots on the stop that didn’t feel great. So, it was a really good night for them. We’ve just got to keep it going.”

Kevin Harvick – finished seventh: “(You’ve clinched into the second round on points. How does it feel?) It’ll be a nice week at home. I think it allows everybody to really go and the biggest thing is you want to go try and learn what you need to do to run fast there, so this week we’ll go to the simulator and try to transfer that to the race track and see how practice goes and then we’ll see how the weekend goes. You definitely still want to go there and get a race win or something that will go forward with you and also learn something for the future.”

Clint Bowyer – finished eighth: (How was your night?) It was solid. I was hoping for more, for sure. I was expecting a little bit more to be honest with you, but we did what we had to do. We gave ourselves a fighting chance going into Charlotte. I knew Richmond was gonna be an opportunity. We semi-capitalized on that opportunity, but looking forward to Charlotte. It’s gonna be fun for everybody involved. It’s do-or-die time. It’s the playoffs. You watch these football teams go through these playoffs and how exciting it is and it’s our turn to have that nerve-racking moments and do-or-die moments for your race team and your season, but I’m looking forward to it. … (You raced your teammates clean and hard?) Well, about as hard as you can run. We have to figure something out with this track and our package. I’m not sold that this is the best product we can do here. I love this place. I love the race track. I love this fan base, this area and everything ever since I started in this sport this has always been an action track and it’s lacking a little bit of that. I think we could do some things with maybe some PJ1 or sealer or tires – something. We need to try to make an adjustment, I really believe that.”

Daniel Suarez – finished ninth: “I feel like it was a clean day. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the speed that we wish we had, but we worked very hard. We made good adjustments. The pit crew did a pretty decent job. They got better as the night went and we just had a top 10 car and finished in the top 10. We’re still working extremely hard to get that first win and hopefully we can make it happen soon.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 10th: “Just a solid performance and unfortunately missed our pit box on the second-to-last pit stop, and we had to dig out of that hole. But just a solid performance, and I think we could have been fifth or sixth if I didn’t miss the pit box. We worked our way back to (10th) and it was a solid qualifying effort and all three stages of the race which led to a respectable finish.”

Joey Logano – finished 11th: “It was a rough night. It was tough. We missed it at the start. I don’t know where, why how yet. It’s pretty confusing. We were decent in practice and on the long run I thought we were pretty good and we go to qualify and we were really tight, and then we start the race and we’re really tight. So many rounds and air-pressure and we hit everything we could hit to try to get the tight out of it. We got better and we went from not being able to stay on the lead lap and getting a couple lucky dogs and then towards the end we got semi-competitive. I wouldn’t say we were good, but a little closer to where we need to be. Overall, I think we had a 50-point cushion, I believe, over the cutline, so that’s a nice feeling going into the Roval. Maybe we can be a little more aggressive and try to get something there.

(Where do you think you stack up now?) Fifty points above the cutline. This track is confusing sometimes. I don’t know. We either run really good and capable of winning or we run like butt, and that’s kind of what happened today. I don’t know, but, like I said at least we swung at it and got something out of it.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 15th: “I made a huge mistake there after we pitted under green. I drove it down into Turn 3 and I thought (Truex) was gonna give me the top and then he went to the top, so I dove back to the bottom and when I did it got on the splitter and pushed up into him and spun him. All I was hoping for after that point was he’d come back and win, but our Fastenal Mustang was a top 10 car. We were running there and just a bummer two weeks in a row that I’ve cost us a good finish.”

Aric Almirola – finished 16th: “I thought our car was pretty good in practice and then tonight we were just off. We just struggled all night to get our car in the race track, really up on top of the race track not making any grip and then made too many mistakes. I sped on pit road and then we had a miscommunication on our green flag stop on when we were coming, and just too many issues. We need a cleaner race. We’re gonna have to be perfect next week at the Roval to get through.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 17th: “Overall, I thought it was a better night than what we had here, for sure. Sometimes we were running kind of close to the 15th area and that’s about where we were gonna finish and we had to come back in for a loose wheel there, it was going to be loose that last pit stop, so that kind of stinks to have to start behind everybody like that. By the time you get to the cars you’re racing your tires are wore out and it’s kind of like, ‘Dang it.’ We kind of salvaged a decent run at it here. At least we’re a little bit to the good, so hopefully we can have a solid race next week. … (What do you think about the Roval next week?) Everyone else has the same goal, so we’ll just try to do our jobs and not have any issues and see what happens.”

Austin Dillon – finished 22nd: “What a night. The Okuma Chevrolet was loose to start the race but I felt confident that Danny Stockman and everyone on the No. 3 team would be able to keep up with changing track conditions and make the adjustments needed to get us a solid finish tonight at Richmond Raceway. Unfortunately, our night became a lot more difficult after we made contact on a restart and ended up with a couple of flat tires. We fell off the lead lap when we pitted for repairs and spent the rest of the race playing catch up. We just couldn’t get the break that we needed to get back on the lead lap, which is a shame because we had a good Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.”

Alex Bowman – finished 23rd: “Yeah, we didn’t execute very well on top of it either. So, it’s definitely a bummer. We were really tight here in the spring and we came here trying to build a car that would turn really well. It did that, but it just didn’t have any drive. When you’re on stickers and the guys running 75 lap old tires are forward driving you, it’s not much fun. We didn’t have a good day. We didn’t have anything go our way either. We just struggled with the car all day. It’s a bummer, but Greg (Ives) and all of us will regroup and we should be strong next week.

(What is your outlook for the Roval?) Yeah, we qualified third and ran fourth there last year. So, we just have to get stage points and have a good day all day. If we don’t make the next round, we don’t really deserve to be there with how we are running right now. It’s definitely a bummer, but we have to get our stuff together.”

William Byron – finished 24th: “(Do you feel pressure going into the Roval?) It’s just great to have a shot. It’s just great to be even on the upside of it. And, I think if we can do that, I’m really optimistic for what we can do going forward. We’re just really fortunate to have another shot after a night like tonight and we can go forward and see what we have. … (How did you end up above the cut line at the end of the race?) I have no idea. I really didn’t know that was even a possibility. But, it was just a tough night. We started out far back and lost our first lap pretty quickly. We just couldn’t recover, we just kept getting lapped. So, we just move on from here and move on to the Roval. I think we have a good shot there to have a good result and hopefully compete for a top-5 or something like that would be nice. I’m really optimistic about that with how we’ve run at the road courses and hopefully that will work out for us.

(Even though it’s on the Roval, do you feel greater confidence going back to your home track?) Yeah, it’s definitely a combo. The back chicane is definitely a lot tighter than it was last year. So, I think we are going to have to really kind of judge the braking zone differently and it’s probably going to be a passing zone there. I think it’s going to be a totally different beast this year with that. At least we can look at the notes that we had for the other corners from last year and try to put that all together. I’m not really sure what to expect with that chicane, but it should be fun.”

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Martin Truex Jr. completes Richmond sweep with playoff win

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Martin Truex Jr. rebounded from a spin with 85 laps to go to win Saturday’s Cup Series playoff race at Richmond Raceway, completing a sweep of the season’s two races on the short track and giving him wins in the first two playoff races.

Truex, who spun from contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. while leading and restarted third, passed teammate Kyle Busch with 26 laps to go and went unchallenged to the checkered flag.

Truex now has six wins this year and 22 in the last four seasons.

“I feel like Danny Sullivan or something right now,” Truex told NBCSN, referencing to the driver who spun and then won the 1985 Indianapolis 500. “I’m speechless. Unbelievable job, all my guys. … Had a heck of a race with Kyle and Denny (Hamlin) all night long, really. We just kept plugging away at it, plugging away at it. That’s what we always do, just keep digging and we never quit.

“Next thing you know I’m catching (Busch) for the lead. I’m like, ‘Cool, here we go.'”

Truex led a Joe Gibbs Racing sweep of the top three spots, with Truex leading Busch and Denny Hamlin. Erik Jones originally finished fourth, but his No. 20 Toyota failed post-race inspection and his finish was disqualified, giving him a last-place finish. Jones’ car failed in the rear toe section in the optical scanning station.

Earlier in the day, Gibbs’ grandson Ty, won his first career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski is now credited with fourth place and Ryan Newman completed the top five.

The top 10 was rounded out by Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson.

Busch and Harvick both clinched spots in the second round on points. Busch’s winless streak is now at 14 races.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Martin Truex Jr.

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

More: Race results and points

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ryan Newman earned his second top five of the year, his third straight top 10 … Denny Hamlin has finished in the top three in six of the last nine races … Bubba Wallace finished 12th for his third top-15 finish in the last five races … Jimmie Johnson earned his first top 10 with crew chief Cliff Daniels.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Reed Sorenson finished 37th after he got in the wall on Lap 243 and brought out the caution … Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola each received speeding penalties during the race and finished 18th and 16th … Chris Buescher‘s streak of top-18 finishes ended at 16 races after he placed 31st, seven laps down … Alex Bowman and William Byron placed four laps down in 23rd and 24th.

NOTABLE: This was the eighth time in their careers that Truex and Kyle Busch have finished 1-2 (or Busch was 1-2 with Truex) and the third time this year. … Truex is the fourth driver to win the first two playoff races, following Matt Kenseth (2013), Tony Stewart (2011) and Greg Biffle (2008).

WHAT’S NEXT: Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway at 2:30 p.m. ET Sept. 29 on NBC

Brad Keselowski wins provisional pole for Richmond Cup race

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Playoff driver Brad Keselowski has won the provisional pole for Saturday’s Cup Series playoff race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

He claimed the pole with a speed of 127.185 mph.

The starting lineup will be finalized tomorrow after pre-race inspection. One failure will result in a qualifying time being disallowed. Should it be made official it will be Keselowski’s third pole of the season, his most since earning three in 2015.

“I didn’t know what to expect, we didn’t do a qualifying run in practice, but we’ve had phenomenal short-run speed here,” Keselowski told NBCSN. “Haven’t necessarily qualified all that well but when the race comes we get the short runs and and we can really make some steam.”

The top five is completed by playoff drivers Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer.

Jimmie Johnson (10th) was the highest qualifying non-playoff driver.

Where the rest of the playoff drivers qualified:

Denny Hamlin – sixth

Aric Almirola – seventh

Martin Truex Jr. – eighth

Kurt Busch – ninth

Kyle Larson – 13th

Ryan Blaney – 15th

Erik Jones – 16th

Ryan Newman – 19th

Alex Bowman – 20th

William Byron – 25th

Joey Logano – 28th

Click here for the provisional starting lineup.

Friday 5: Kyle Busch’s comments address murky issue with no solution

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RICHMOND, Va. — The way to prevent the contact that happened last week between Kyle Busch and Garrett Smithley at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is simple.

Once the playoffs start, only playoff cars can race.

Of course, that will never happen — and should never happen.

But as long as more than half the field features non-playoff competitors, there will be times when those drivers play a role, despite their best intentions, of impacting a playoff driver’s race. It could happen again in Saturday night’s playoff race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

While the focus since Sunday has been on Busch’s comments after the Las Vegas race, the response from Smithley and the rebuttal from Joey Gase, there is a bigger issue, which Smithley alluded to in an interview on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio earlier this week.

“People don’t understand the technology gap and the money gap that there is in the Cup series,” Smithley told Mojo Nixon on “Manifold Destiny.”

Smithley understands. His NASCAR career of 11 Cup races and 125 Xfinity starts all have been with underfunded teams.

Such teams have fewer resources and struggle to be competitive, all but forcing their drivers to seemingly spend as much time looking out the rearview mirror to stay out of the way as looking ahead through the windshield.

While NASCAR has a minimum speed for races, only one time this season, according to Cup race reports, has a car been ordered off the track because it was going too slow. That was the Spire Motorsports entry at Dover in May. Two months later, that team — one of 36 chartered teams — won the rain-shortened race at Daytona with a different driver.

Corey LaJoie noted on Twitter after the Las Vegas race how a team’s financial situation can impact its driver choice:

Justin Allgaier, preparing to compete in Friday’s Xfinity Series playoff opener, understands the plight of drivers with subpar equipment. Allgaier suffered through such circumstances when he raced in Cup.

“Kyle obviously had some pretty harsh words,” Allgaier said Thursday during the Xfinity Series playoff media day at Richmond Raceway. “I do understand sometimes there are times where lapped traffic does make a big difference in how the outcome goes. But on the flip side, I’ve been in that situation. You’re battling, really your livelihood, just to even keep a ride, and you’re doing everything you can and the last thing you want to do is mess somebody up.

“I thought that the situation we were in last week, personally I didn’t think anything could have been done differently as far as what Garrett did or what lane he ran. I thought he did everything right. He went in and picked a lane and stuck with it.”

Busch didn’t see it that way and ran into the back of Smithley. Busch then ignited a debate on social media when he told NBCSN after the race: “We’re at the top echelon of motorsports, and we’ve got guys who have never won Late Model races running on the racetrack. It’s pathetic. They don’t know where to go. What else do you do?”

Busch’s question has no answer that will appease him because nothing will be done. It’s understandable if he’s sensitive to the issue. Last year at Phoenix, a caution with 18 laps to go by a driver making his first start in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks in four years, bunched the field and took away Busch’s advantage. Busch pulled away on the restart to win.

“I understand the implications I could cause by messing somebody’s race up, and I’m going to do everything I can to not do that,” said Tanner Berryhill, the driver who was making his first NASCAR start in four years last season at Phoenix, before that event. “That’s not how I want to be remembered in this sport.”

Nobody does. The incident between Busch and Smithley likely will be soon forgotten. But there will come a day when a non-playoff driver is involved in a situation in the championship race that could determine who wins the title and who doesn’t. As long as NASCAR’s playoff races include non-playoff cars, the risk always will be there. It is up to NASCAR to ensure that those competing in those races are qualified to do so.

2. A new experience

Jimmie Johnson got his first taste as a non-playoff driver in a playoff race last weekend at Las Vegas and it was interesting.

One of the debates before and during the playoffs is how much those not racing for a title should race the playoff contenders. As the level of desperation increases in each round among playoff drivers, their patience with non-playoff drivers decreases.

So what was the seven-time champion’s experience like with the playoff drivers Sunday?

“I saw quite a few situations where drivers in the playoffs took some desperate moves out there,” he said earlier this week at Charlotte Motor Speedway after joining breast cancer survivors in painting pit wall pink. “I saw it happen to other drivers, I had a few make that move on me as well.

“It’s a tricky situation to be in, and I know they’re going after every point they need to but so am I. We certainly plan to not allow myself to be used up as I was in Vegas a couple of times.”

3. Game planning

A fascinating aspect of this year’s rules package is how crew chiefs set their cars, particularly at the big tracks. Stewart-Haas Racing focused on speed for its cars last weekend at Las Vegas and took the top four spots in qualifying. When it came to the race, Kevin Harvick’s car was the only SHR car to excel and finished second.

Joe Gibbs Racing, on the other hand, focused on downforce to make its cars better in the race. The result was that Martin Truex Jr. won after starting 24th.

Crew chief Cole Pearn and Martin Truex Jr. celebrate their Las Vegas win. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

That’s a trend for Truex. He has started eighth or worse in four of the five races he’s won this year. Truex qualified 13th at Dover but then started at the rear because of inspection failures, he qualified 14th in the Coca-Cola 600, started eighth at Sonoma and 24th at Las Vegas in his wins. The exception was when he started fifth at Richmond in his April victory.

Harvick’s team has taken a different approach. He qualified third at Las Vegas and finished second. He won from the pole at Indianapolis. He won at Michigan in August after starting second.

“That’s their MO, right?” crew chief Cole Pearn said after Truex’s win last weekend at Las Vegas of Harvick’s team. “They’re dragging the pipes, slamming the backs, just going for all that speed. It’s working for them. All the power to them.

I think for us, we’ve had a couple races where we’ve gone more that way and they haven’t been very good for us. I think everyone has their own take. I think you generally look at JGR as a whole, how well we’ve qualified this year, I think we got one pole, 14 wins.  That’s the variance in the strategy.”

4. Reading time

Denny Hamlin and Noah Gragson have spent time on a new endeavor recently. They’re both reading books to help make them better.

Hamlin and others have cited personal growth as contributing to his turnaround this season after going winless last year, the first time he had failed to win while competing full-time in Cup.

“It’s definitely fact that I am calmer and more confident because I have learned to let go of the things that I can’t control,” Hamlin said. “A lot of that has come through self-improvement. I have done a lot of reading, which I wouldn’t consider myself a reader. I didn’t read a book, I guarantee you, from whenever I had to in high school till I turned 38 this year.

“I just started reading over the last three or four months. I started learning and trying to be a better person in general. I have learned to really let go of things I can’t control. It has really allowed me to think about the process more. I think it really has helped with my on-track performances. Thinking through the processes more and not focusing on and worrying about the things that I specifically can’t control.”

Gragson said that he’s reading a book “25 Ways to Win With People” to be a better team leader.

“That’s what I need to be for this race team,” Gragson said. “It’s really easy to be happy and smiling when things are going good, but I feel like your character comes out when maybe things aren’t going as well as you would want. I’m trying to lean on people who I call my mentors … reading that book and just trying to be better and more positive.”

Gragson said he got the book from former driver Josh Wise, who trains drivers with Chip Ganassi Racing, JR Motorsports and GMS Racing.

“I’ve been leaning on him,” Gragson said of Wise. “He helps me with overall thinking. He was the first person I went to when I felt like we were going through maybe a valley that our communication was off as a team, I was kind of struggling with my confidence and where we were. Leaning on him really helped me. The takeaways (from the book) have been very valuable and it helps me with everyday life, too. I’m willing to try it and it’s been helping so far.”

5. Who is next

Richmond marks the fifth short track race of the season. Consider what the first four races have seen:

Four different winners (Brad Keselowski at Martinsville, Kyle Busch at Bristol, Martin Truex Jr. at Richmond and Denny Hamlin at the Bristol night race).

Four different pole winners (Joey Logano at Martinsville, Chase Elliott at Bristol, Kevin Harvick at Richmond and Denny Hamlin at the Bristol night race).

Four different drivers finished second (Chase Elliott at Martinsville, Kurt Busch at Bristol, Joey Logano at Richmond and Matt DiBenedetto at the Bristol night race).

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Where Cup playoff drivers stand heading to Richmond

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Cup drivers are off to Richmond this weekend for the second race in the opening round of the playoffs (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN).

Here is where the 16 playoff drivers stand with two races left before the field is cut to 12:

MOVING ON

Martin Truex Jr.’s victory last weekend at Las Vegas sends him into the second round. Still, he could be a key factor in the first round. He won at Richmond in the spring for his first Cup short track victory and was headed for the win in last year’s race at the Charlotte Roval before a spinning Jimmie Johnson collected Truex in the final chicane.

LOOKING GOOD

Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin all appear to be in good shape to advance to the second round.

Harvick finished second at Las Vegas, Keselowski was third, Elliott fourth. Logano placed ninth. Harvick, Keselowski and Logano also scored several stage points. Logano had 19 stage points to lead the group.

Hamlin is seventh in the points after his 15th-place finish. He has 2,056 points and is his 29 points ahead of Ryan Newman, the first driver outside the cutoff line. Hamlin has finished sixth or better in seven of the last eight Richmond races.

Busch is still in good shape despite his frustrating race and anger with slower cars. Collecting 45 playoff points, including 15 for the regular-season championship, provided the insurance he needed after his Vegas woes.

WORK TO DO

Kyle Larson and William Byron.

Larson is eighth in the points and followed by Byron. Larson sits 17 points ahead of Newman. Byron is 13 points ahead of Newman after Byron placed in the top 10 at Las Vegas.

Larson has four consecutive top 10s at Richmond. Byron’s best finish in three Richmond Cup races is 12th.

PRESSURE IS ON

Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch.

Blaney has never finished better than 18th in seven Cup races at Richmond. He enters the weekend 12 points ahead of Newman, who is outside the cutline. If Blaney has another poor finish, he will need a good result at the Roval the following week to advance.

Bowman has never finished better than 12th in seven previous Richmond races. Almirola has two top 10s in his past seven Richmond races.

Newman is six points behind Almirola for the final transfer spot — the following weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval is the cutoff race for the first round. Newman has three top 10s in his last five Richmond races. Kurt Busch, who is 14 points behind Almirola, has finished 11th or better in six of the last seven Richmond races.

IN TROUBLE

Clint Bowyer and Erik Jones. Bowyer won the pole last weekend at Las Vegas and then scored zero stage points. Without any stage points from last weekend, Bowyer is 21 points out of the final transfer spot. He finished third at Richmond in the spring. Not sure if two top-five finishes in this round will be enough to help him advance.

Jones likely needs to win. At 26 points behind the cutoff line, Jones has the second-largest deficit to the cutoff line after one playoff race since the elimination format was created. 

POINTS STANDING

2082 — Martin Truex Jr. * (win moves him to second round)

2079 — Kevin Harvick

2075 — Joey Logano

2063 — Kyle Busch

2058 — Brad Keselowski

2057 — Chase Elliott

2056 — Denny Hamlin

2044 — Kyle Larson

2040 — William Byron

2039 — Ryan Blaney

2037 — Alex Bowman

2033 — Aric Almirola

CUTOFF LINE TO SECOND ROUND

2027 — Ryan Newman

2019 — Kurt Busch

2012 — Clint Bowyer

2007 — Erik Jones

For more on the playoffs, watch NASCAR America MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday on NBCSN