Playoff Points: Blaney scores stage points, Hendrick enters the conversation

John K Harrelson/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Following each regular season points race, Kickin’ the Tires takes a deep look at the current playoff grids for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, evaluating each team’s playoff odds and highlighting those that made steps in the right direction, and those who dug themselves into a hole. 

Track: Texas Motor Speedway

Event: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500

Race Winner: Jimmie Johnson

Stage Winner(s): Ryan Blaney (Won Both Stages)

Who Won Big

  • Jimmie Johnson: Remember when we were all doubting Johnson’s ability to put together a good finish? You know, one week ago? Well, now the seven-time champion has a race win to his name, all-but guaranteeing him a spot in the postseason and adding five playoff points to his championship resume.
  • Ryan Blaney: Sure, Blaney’s 12th-place finish was a letdown after his dominant beginning, but the Wood Brothers Racing star tallied the fourth-most points on the day, scoring 20 stages points and two precious playoff points with wins in each of the first two stages. Now the sophomore sits sixth in the standings, 73 points ahead of the cutoff.
  •  Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Texas couldn’t have come at a better time for NASCAR’s most popular driver. Earnhardt was finally able to show signs of life after what had previously been a dreadful start to the 2017 season. The North Carolinian’s fifth-place run elevated him to 20th in the standings, just 18 points out of the current playoff grid.

Who Hurt Their Odds:

  • Joe Gibbs Racing: Save for Kyle Busch, who has run marginally better than his teammates, Joe Gibbs Racing have found themselves collectively on the playoff bubble through the early stages of the season.  Finishes of 15th (Busch), 16th (Matt Kenseth), 19th (Daniel Suarez) and 25th (Denny Hamlin) on Sunday did little to help that. JGR currently has only two drivers inside of the playoff grid, with one – Hamlin – sitting directly in the cutoff position.
  • Kasey Kahne: The reason that Hamlin held on to a preliminary postseason spot leaving Texas was that Kahne’s day went even worse. A broken axle midway through the event led Kahne to a 38th-place result, bumping him out of the playoff grid by four points.
  • Erik Jones: After a win in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, hopes were high that Jones could parlay his winning experience on the repaved Texas oval to Sunday success, but the Michigander struggled heavily en-route to a 22nd-place result. As a result, the rookie finds himself 14th in the standings, just 12 points to the good.

Playoff Standings: 

Brad Keselowski’s two victories have him firmly inside of the playoff grid.  (Photo: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Rank Driver Wins Points Ahead/Behind Cutoff
1 Brad Keselowski 2 127
2 Kyle Larson 1 168
3 Martin Truex, Jr. 1 128
4 Jimmie Johnson 1 43
5 Ryan Newman 1 16
6 Kurt Busch 1 4
7 Chase Elliott 0 151
8 Joey Logano 0 95
9 Ryan Blaney 0 77
10 Kyle Busch 0 64
11 Jamie McMurray 0 62
12 Clint Bowyer 0 57
13 Kevin Harvick 0 51
14 Trevor Bayne 0 17
15 Erik Jones 0 12
16 Denny Hamlin 0 4
Playoff Cutoff
17 Kasey Kahne 0 -4
18 Aric Almirola 0 -5
19 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 0 -12
20 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 0 -18
21 Austin Dillon 0 -21
22 Matt Kenseth 0 -25
23 Daniel Suarez 0 -26
24 Ty Dillon 0 -29
25 AJ Allmendinger 0 -44
26 Paul Menard 0 -45
27 Chris Buescher 0 -58
28 Michael McDowell 0 -60
29 Danica Patrick 0 -61
30 Landon Cassill 0 -68

Where They Stand

(All But) Locked In

  • Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch
    • Race Winners
  • Chase Elliott, Joey Logano
    • Both drivers hold a healthy advantage in the standings and have a track record that indicates they aren’t likely to drop.

Safe (For Now)

  • Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray
    • Blaney’s strong showing Sunday and full-race advantage over the playoff bubble have him sitting in a good position to make his first appearance in the playoff.
    • Busch has endured his share of struggles, but finds himself inside of the top 10 even as Joe Gibbs Racing struggles.
    • McMurray hasn’t been as strong as teammate Larson, but has impressed as he reaps the benefits of Chip Ganassi Racing’s early speed. Considering he’s made the postseason field in each of the past two seasons with much less impressive showings, it seems safe to assume he can continue to contend moving forward.

More Work to Do

Clint Bowyer talks during Daytona 500 media day at the Daytona International Speedway. (Photo: HHP/Andrew Coppley)

  • Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick
    • Stewart Haas Racing’s top two drivers in the standings have the pedigree to suggest they’ll join teammate Kurt Busch in the postseason, but the team’s transition to Ford has led to occasional struggles with inconsistency that they need to iron out.

On the Bubble

  • Trevor Bayne, Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin

Within Reach

  • Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Austin Dillon, Matt Kenseth, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon

Likely Need to Win

  • AJ Allmendinger, Paul Menard, Chris Buescher, Michael McDowell, Danica Patrick, Landon Cassill

Playoff Points

Rank Driver Playoff Points
1 Brad Keselowski 10
2 Martin Truex, Jr. 9
3 Kyle Larson 6
4 (tie) Jimmie Johnson 5 (+5)
4 (tie) Ryan Newman 5
4 (tie) Kurt Busch 5
7 Kevin Harvick 3
8 (tie) Chase Elliott 2
8 (tie) Ryan Blaney 2 (+2)
10 (tie) Joey Logano 1
10 (tie) Kyle Busch 1

Stage Points

Sunday’s results

Ryan Blaney claimed victories in both of Sunday’s first two stages at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP)

Stage 1 Stage 2
Pos. Driver Points Pos. Driver Points
1 Ryan Blaney 10 (+1 Playoff) 1 Ryan Blaney 10 (+1 Playoff)
2 Martin Truex, Jr. 9 2 Jimmie Johnson 9
3 Jamie McMurray 8 3 Jamie McMurray 8
4 Kevin Harvick 7 4 Kyle Larson 7
5 Brad Keselowski 6 5 Chase Elliott 6
6 Kyle Larson 5 6 Kurt Busch 5
7 Clint Bowyer 4 7 Kevin Harvick 4
8 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 3 8 Brad Keselowski 3
9 Joey Logano 2 9 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 2
10 Kyle Busch 1 10 Martin Truex, Jr. 1

Season Totals

RANK DRIVER TEAM STAGE POINTS STAGE WINS
1. Kyle Larson Chip Ganassi Racing 87 1
2. Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports 85 2
3. Brad Keselowski Team Penske 82 0
4. Martin Truex Jr. Furniture Row Racing 73 4
5. Ryan Blaney Wood Brothers Racing 61 2
6. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing 54 1
t-7. Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing 51 3
t-7. Jamie McMurray Chip Ganassi Racing 51 0
9. Joey Logano Team Penske 40 1
10. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Motorsports 37 0
11. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing 20 0
t-12. Ryan Newman Richard Childress Racing 19 0
t-12 Erik Jones Furniture Row Racing 19 0
t-12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hendrick Motorsports 19 0
t-12. Clint Bowyer Stewart-Haas Racing 19 0
16. Kurt Busch Stewart-Haas Racing 13 0
t-17. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Racing 7 0
t-17. Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing 7 0
t-17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Roush Fenway Racing 7 0
20. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Racing 6 0
21. AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Racing 5 0
22. Trevor Bayne Roush Fenway Racing 3 0
23. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Motorsports 1

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