Playoff Points: Talladega I Edition

Rusty Jarrett/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 postseason odds and highlighting those that made steps in the right direction, as well as those who dug themselves into a hole. 

Track: Talladega Superspeedway

Event: GEICO 500

Race Winner: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

Stage Winner(s): Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin

Who Won Big

  • Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.: Finally. After four years of struggles, a spirited late drive from Stenhouse capped off a resurgent weekend – and season to date – giving the Mississippian his first Cup series victory. Suddenly Stenhouse is 12th in standings, and an essential lock for his first playoff appearance.
  • Brad Keselowski: Deja vu. Keselowski didn’t claim a victory, but his Stage 1 triumph helped the Team Penske shoe add another notch to his lead in playoff points.
  • Jamie McMurray: He didn’t match his 2013 win, but McMurray’s strong runner-up performance added to his already healthy advantage over the playoff cut line and reminded everybody just how much of a threat McMurray can be on a restrictor plate track with a good car.
  • Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch: Joe Gibbs Racing went winless once again, but two of their drivers did plenty to help their playoff odds. Busch posted a strong third-place result and snagged some stage points to rise to 10th in the standings, 55 points to the good. Meanwhile, Hamlin continued his recent climb up the standings, rising up to 11th and earning his first playoff point in the process.

Who Hurt Their Odds:

“The Big One” reeked its usual havoc. (Photo: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

  • Everyone taken out by The Big One: In typical Talladega style, one massive, 18-car wreck served as a shock to the system for the both the race and the playoff battle. From Trevor Bayne to Erik Jones and Matt Kenseth, a slew of the series’ best saw their days end 30 minutes earlier than anticipated – and saw their playoff hopes damaged in the process.
  • Ryan Blaney: More issues for the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing team. Blaney’s third-straight finish outside of the top 30 saw the sophomore fall to 13th in the standings, truly within reach for those outside of the postseason field for the second-consecutive week. Their luck’s been so poor, I changed only a few words of this note from last week.
  • Jamie McMurray: Okay so this change hasn’t occurred yet, at least not at the time of this writing, but playoff points will likely need an updated in the coming days to move Almirola down the standings. Despite his fourth-place finish on Sunday, Almirola’s week will be looked upon poorly after his No. 43 Ford failed post-race measurements.
  • A.J. Allmendinger: I already mentioned the Big One, but Allmendinger deserves his own mention because Sunday’s crash saw him drop 100 points outside of the playoff bubble. It’s going to take a victory – likely on a road course – if the Dinger wants to repeat his 2014 playoff bid.

Playoff Standings: 

Rank Driver Wins Points Ahead/Behind Cutoff
3 Brad Keselowski 2 145
8 Jimmie Johnson 2 83
1 Kyle Larson 1 206
2 Martin Truex, Jr. 1 152
12 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 1 28
14 Ryan Newman 1 15
15 Kurt Busch 1 5
4 Chase Elliott 0 131
5 Joey Logano 1* 96
6 Jamie McMurray 0 96
7 Kevin Harvick 0 87
9 Clint Bowyer 0 67
10 Kyle Busch 0 55
11 Denny Hamlin 0 45
13 Ryan Blaney 0 18
16 Trevor Bayne 0 1
—–Playoff Cutoff—–
17 Aric Almirola 0 -1
18 Kasey Kahne 0 -9
19 Matt Kenseth 0 -18
20 Erik Jones 0 -23
21 Daniel Suarez 0 -36
22 Ty Dillon 0 -42
23 Austin Dillon 0 -51
24 Paul Menard 0 -52
25 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 0 -67
26 Chris Buescher 0 -87
27 Cole Whitt 0 -98
28 David Ragan 0 -99
29 A.J. Allmendinger 0 -100
30 Matt DiBenedetto 0 -105
* One or more wins are encumbered

Where They Stand

(All But) Locked In

  • Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
    • Race Winners
  • Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick
    • Jamie McMurray’s runner-up run was enough to firmly cement himself in the playoff conversation for the foreseeable future.

Safe (For Now)

  • Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch
    • Neither driver managed to pull off a victory, but both ran strong to continue to build on their healthy advantage in the standings.

More Work to Do

  • Denny Hamlin,
    • After a strong day in Talladega, Hamlin is just one strong run from a 50-point cushion – and “safe” designation.

On the Bubble

  • Ryan Blaney Trevor Bayne
    • Ryan Blaney continues to free-fall in the standings. What once seemed like a strong chance at a playoff berth suddenly seems much more in doubt.
    • Bayne ran strong, but his involvement in the Big One left the 2011 Daytona 500 champion holding on to a playoff spot by the slimmest of margins.

Within Reach 

A strong weekend for Kasey Kahne saw the Hendrick Motorsports driver climb within 10 points of the playoff bubble. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

  • Aric Almirola, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon, Austin Dillon, Paul Menard, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
    • Erik Jones joins this list after dropping out of the playoff grid for the first time since Phoenix.
    • Matt Kenseth continues to climb his way up the board, now within nine points of the playoff grid after earning his first stage victory in Richmond.
    • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. can still point his way into the playoffs with luck, especially given the amount of extra markers up for grabs with stages. However, one or two more bad races and NASCAR’s most popular driver will likely be forced to hunt for a win.

Likely Need to Win

  • Chris Buescher, Cole Whitt, David Ragan, A.J. Allmendinger, Matt DiBenedetto
    • This group has seen a lot of fluctuation, indicating that even with a fluke victory staying inside of the top 30 for any one driver may be no guarantee.

Playoff Points

Rank Driver Playoff Points
1 Brad Keselowski 12 (+1)
2 (tie) Martin Truex, Jr. 10
2 (tie) Jimmie Johnson 10
4 Kyle Larson 7
5 (tie) Ryan Newman 5
5 (tie) Kurt Busch 5
5 (tie) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 5 (+5)
8 Kevin Harvick 3
9 (tie) Chase Elliott 2
9 (tie) Ryan Blaney 2
11 (tie) Joey Logano 1
11 (tie) Kyle Busch 1
11 (tie) Matt Kenseth 1
11 (tie) Denny Hamlin 1 (+1)

Stage Points

Stage 1 Stage 2
Pos. Driver Points Pos. Driver Points
1 Brad Keselowski 10 (+1 Playoff) 1 Denny Hamlin 10 (+1 Playoff)
2 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 9 2 Kevin Harvick 9
3 Kyle Busch 8 3 Ryan Blaney 8
4 Martin Truex, Jr. 7 4 Martin Truex, Jr. 7
5 Trevor Bayne 6 5 Jimmie Johnson 6
6 Joey Logano 5 6 Kyle Larson 5
7 Paul Menard 4 7 Kurt Busch 4
8 Danica Patrick 3 8 Kasey Kahne 3
9 Ryan Blaney 2 9 Erik Jones 2
10 Erik Jones 1 10 Jamie McMurray 1

Season Totals

RANK DRIVER TEAM STAGE POINTS STAGE WINS
1. Kyle Larson Chip Ganassi Racing 121 2
2. Martin Truex Jr. Furniture Row Racing 114 5
3. Brad Keselowski Team Penske 107 2
4. Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports 90 2
5. Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing 82 3
6. Ryan Blaney Wood Brothers Racing 71 2
7. Jamie McMurray Chip Ganassi Racing 69 0
t-8. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing 63 1
t-8. Joey Logano Team Penske 63 1
10. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Motorsports 57 0
11. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing 49 1
12. Erik Jones Furniture Row Racing 35 0
13. Ryan Newman Richard Childress Racing 28 0
14. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Racing 25 1
15. Clint Bowyer Stewart-Haas Racing 24 0
16. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hendrick Motorsports 19 0
t-17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Roush Fenway Racing 17 0
t-17. Kurt Busch Stewart-Haas Racing 17 0
19. Trevor Bayne Roush Fenway Racing 11 0
20. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Racing 10 0
t-21. Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing 7 0
t-21. AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Racing 7 0
t-23. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Motorsports 4 0
t-23. Paul Menard Richard Childress Racing 4 0
25. Ty Dillon Germain Racing 2 0

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