With the playoffs underway, the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series looks like a showdown between Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. more than anything else as it heads into the Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway on Sunday.
Truex looked dominant while taking the first checkered flag Sept. 17 at Chicagoland Speedway and appeared to be well on his way to a second before Busch showed he had other plans last Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, leaving the rest of the series in a state of purgatory as nobody else seems able to pull close.
But with notables such as Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski still hanging around and knowing how to turn it on when it matters, nothing is as cut and dried as it seems this time of year.
Here's everything to know about this weekend's critical event.
Where: Dover International Speedway, Dover, Delaware
When: Sunday, 2 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports
Apache Warrior 400
Martin Truex Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings
|1. Martin Truex Jr.||2,149|
|2. Kyle Busch||2,119|
|3. Kyle Larson||2,125|
|4. Brad Keselowski||2,106|
|5. Denny Hamlin||2,088|
|6. Matt Kenseth||2,087|
|7. Jimmie Johnson||2,076|
|8. Ryan Blaney||2,070|
|9. Chase Elliott||2,070|
|10. Kevin Harvick||2,069|
|11. Jamie McMurray||2,053|
|12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||2,044|
|13. Austin Dillon||2,044|
|14. Ryan Newman||2,043|
|15. Kurt Busch||2,027|
|16. Kasey Kahne||2,023|
Drivers to Watch
The watch for Johnson has officially started.
Despite three wins on the year, he regressed from an eighth-place finish in Chicago to 14th a week ago in New Hampshire, watching as the big two names remained in form and put on a show.
For Johnson, this stretch into the postseason has been a learning experience when it comes to the new stage-based format, according to NASCAR.com's Pat Decola: "I think we are all living it firsthand. I think we understood the concept, but now that it is in your face and you live it day-to-day and kind of obsess over it, I think it is making it much more apparent to myself and others how important those stage points are."
As Johnson surely knows, though, he can't dwell on where he came up short in terms of stage points right now. He's a monster historically at Dover, so one great performance will ensure he won't have problems gunning for the eighth title.
Then again, the next two guys on the list will have something to say on the matter.
Martin Truex Jr.
Truex can't afford to let the rest of the series close the gap.
All he has to do now is remain steady. He had four wins in the regular season, won the title there and then started the playoffs off with a fifth win, which would make the playoffs almost boring were it not for the entertaining format.
Which isn't to suggest Truex has looked to be in bad shape after the hot start to the playoffs. He finished fifth in New Hampshire, even battling back from a bad wreck to make Busch sweat down the stretch.
"We had damage and had to fight from the back of the pack the rest of the day," he said, per Motorsport.com's Lee Spencer. "So proud of our effort to run fifth after all that, but it definitely hurt our day."
If he runs clean, he shouldn't have a problem competing at a race he won a year ago.
Did anybody mention Truex won this event last year?
As it stands, Busch might be the only guy capable of giving Truex a run for his money down the stretch.
Busch led 187 laps at New Hampshire after winning his second pole in a row, silencing those who wondered if he was going to start each race hot before fizzling.
But even he has to admit the Truex wreck opened a door wide.
"It was a close call," Busch said, per the Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa. "Certainly the defining moment of the race with the 78 getting torn up a little bit and us being able to squeak through unscathed."
Fans know the deal with Busch, though. A little luck might get him where he needs to be, but he's one of the sport's kings at staying there upon arrival.
Barring something dramatic, fans can expect to see Busch flirting with another checkered flag Sunday at a track he's more than familiar with.
Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.