After an unpredictable, thrilling season, the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs got off to an almost predictable start, with Martin Truex Jr. pulling in the checkered flag at the postseason's first event.
The rest of the drivers have to respond Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the ISM Connect 300.
There, underperforming former champions and the rest of those in the running will spar for positioning before the elimination process begins. With parity perhaps explaining down showings from notables like Jimmie Johnson lately, fans can expect another hotly contested event.
Here is a look at everything to know about the Sunday afternoon showdown.
Where: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
When: Sunday, 2 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports
Row 1: Kyle Busch (Pole), Kyle Larson
Row 2: Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney
Row 3: Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick
Row 4: Kurt Busch, Erik Jones
Row 5: Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth
Row 6: Jamie McMurray, Jimmie Johnson
Row 7: Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott
Row 8: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer
Row 9: Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman
Row 10: Paul Menard, A.J. Allmendinger
Row 11: David Ragan, Chris Buescher
Row 12: Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Row 13: Daniel Suarez, Matt DiBenedetto
Row 14: Danica Patrick, Landon Cassill
Row 15: Aric Almirola, Ty Dillon
Row 16: Michael McDowell, Cole Whitt
Row 17: Corey LaJoie, Gray Gaulding
Row 18: Reed Sorensen, Brett Moffitt
Row 19: Jeffrey Earnhardt, Cody Ware
Row 20: Joey Logano
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings
|1. Martin Truex Jr.||2102|
|2. Kyle Larson||2075|
|3. Kevin Harvick||2067|
|4. Brad Keselowski||2061|
|5. Kyle Busch||2061|
|6. Denny Hamlin||2058|
|7. Jimmie Johnson||2046|
|8. Chase Elliott||2044|
|9. Matt Kenseth||2039|
|11. Jamie McMurray||2031|
|12. Austin Dillon||2026|
|13. Kurt Busch||2026|
|14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||2022|
|15. Kasey Kahne||2021|
|16. Ryan Newman||2019|
Drivers to Watch
While Kevin Harvick isn't exactly uncomfortable heading into New Hampshire, he knows as well as anyone else how shaky the ground a driver stands on in the playoffs can be on a week-to-week basis.
Harvick finished third in Chicago last time out after leading 59 laps, but with contenders like Matt Kenseth almost falling out of the top 10, rebound potential for other guys means he can't afford to blink.
Luckily for Harvick, he enters Sunday as the defending champion after last year leading all of eight laps despite starting 19th.
Ahead of the race, he talked about how he navigates this portion of the schedule on a yearly basis, per Stewart-Haas Racing:
Given the fact Harvick won this race a year ago, led nearly 60 laps in his most recent outing and is a familiar face seemingly unfazed by all the changes this year, he's a threat to make it two in a row.
Such a development would be nothing but a good thing for fans—the longer Harvick stays on a title hunt, the better.
Johnson is one of the guys coming off an odd performance.
Not that an eighth-place finish is bad—observers have just come to expect more from Johnson when the playoffs hit.
And he's right there with them, though he cites the quality of the competition as the main reason for his unexpected finish in Chicago.
"The cars are all so equal—at least the guys from third or fourth on back, we are all so equal," Johnson said, according to ESPN.com's Bob Pockrass. "If you could get by somebody on a restart, that was really about it. But for me, my car just really wanted to run the bottom of the racetrack."
A year ago, Johnson finished eighth at this race despite starting fourth. If he's going to bounce back to silence some of the questions starting to get whispered in his direction, he'll have to put on a better performance.
Like Harvick, the longer he's competing for a title, the better.
Martin Truex Jr.
Few people thought Truex was in any sort of trouble entering the most recent race.
Yes, he had two finishes of 20th or worse over his last three outings before heading to the playoffs. But no, it wasn't easy to think a four-race winner would continue the downward trajectory once the postseason started.
Now he's a five-race winner.
Truex didn't lead the most laps in Chicago—that honor went to pole winner Kyle Busch at 85—but he did did lead 77 en route to the checkered flag. A statement win, even if he doesn't want to make statements.
"I don't really care a lot about statements," Truex said, according to USA Today's Mike Hembree. "I'm just having fun. It's important to come here and not let the pressure get to you, and I think we did a good job with that."
An almost predictable win for Truex creates an obvious question: Can anyone keep pace with him?
Truex has jumped out to a strong advantage on the leaderboard, and one has to think the guy who has already won five races this year won't have too much of a problem steadily acquiring points as the playoffs progress.
With the bar set for the rest of postseason, Truex enters Sunday the favorite in more ways than one.
Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.