Roger Diez: NASCAR Cup playoff will cut four drivers | NevadaAppeal.com

Roger Diez: NASCAR Cup playoff will cut four drivers

Roger Diez

Sunday's race at Dover's Monster Mile will wrap up the first round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup's playoff season. At the checkered flag, the number of playoff drivers will drop from 16 to 12. So who will be in, and who will be out? Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch will advance based on wins in the first round. Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski have enough points to advance no matter where they finish. And at the other end of the spectrum are those drivers in jeopardy of being cut from the playoff field. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon are tied for 12th place and need a strong Dover finish to advance. Ryan Newman is only one point behind that pair and needs to finish ahead of both of them to advance. And Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne pretty much need a win to remain in playoff contention.

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So who has the best chance of winning at Dover to advance to the next playoff round? The tale of the tape says it's Jimmie Johnson, who has won 11 times including this year's June race at the Monster Mile. Johnson usually picks up the pace late in the season, and it's time for his usual stretch run. However, the Toyotas seem to have better speed than the Chevy brigade this year and won both Dover rounds last season with Truex in the fall and Matt Kenseth in the spring. Keselowski and Kevin Harvick are the only other two active drivers with Dover wins in the last five years – Harvick in 2015 and Brad in 2012 in a Penske Dodge. Truex will start from the pole, with Kyle Busch alongside. Truex spoiled Busch's perfect qualifying record for the first elimination round, as Busch had won every qualifying round until Truex knocked him off the pole on Friday. Five of the first six starters Sunday are Joe Gibbs Racing team drivers or affiliated drivers (Truex).

Kyle Larson will start in third place, the fastest of the Chevy contingent. With the chance to continue the fight for the championship on the line, look for strategic races for some and outright desperation from those on the bubble.

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The Xfinity series kicks off their playoff season at Dover, racing this afternoon, while the Camping World Trucks are at Vegas for the second race in their first elimination round this evening.

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The Formula One series continues their Far East swing this weekend at Malaysia's Sepang circuit. It will be the series' final race there, as the government has declined to fund it for 2018 and beyond. After leading the points earlier in the season, Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel is playing catch-up after failing to finish in Singapore while rival Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes won there. Hamilton now has a 28-point lead in the drivers' championship. But history favors Vettel in Malaysia, as he has won there four times (2010, 2011, 2013, 2015) while Hamilton has only one victory there in 2014. Vettel's teammate Kimi Raikkonen has won twice, in 2003 and 2008, and Fernando Alonso has three Sepang victories. However Alonso's McLaren-Honda won't be a factor.

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In other F1 news, there's a driver change on the Toro Rosso team. The Red Bull junior squad is replacing Russian driver Daniel Kvyat with Frenchman Pierre Gasly for Malaysia and one additional race. The team is evaluating their driver lineup for 2018 and wants to see how Gasly, 2016 GP2 champion, will perform in their F1 car. Kvyat has scored only four points so far this season, compared to 48 for teammate Carlos Sainz.

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The NHRA's Mello Yello drag racing series is also in action this weekend, at St Louis' Gateway Motorsports Park for the AAA Midwest Nationals. Brittany Force's Top Fuel win last weekend puts her third in the standings, only one point behind Doug Kalitta. Steve Torrence is the leader. Brittany's sister Courtney is also third in Funny Cars, behind leader Ron Capps and Robert Hight. Pro Stock's top three are Bo Butner, Greg Anderson, and Tanner Gray.

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