Brad Keselowski leads the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series into the second race of the playoffs at Richmond Raceway on Sunday for the Federated Auto Parts 400.
Keselowski, clearly pulling inspiration from other multi-race winners this year, won his third race in a row during the first event of the postseason, pulling him ahead on the leaderboard for the time being.
The results through one week pose some interesting questions and lessons, the bigger of the latter being simple enough—regular-season wins don't necessarily equate to postseason success. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch might have 13 combined checkered flags, but it's Keselowski in control of the postseason so far.
Saturday presents another chance for those without a playoff win so far, while the back end of the leaderboard has to start thinking about the looming cut day.
Where: Richmond Raceway
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live
Federated Auto Parts 400
Note: Qualifying is Friday. Entry list.
2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings
|1. Brad Keselowski||2069|
|2. Martin Truex Jr.||2087|
|3. Kyle Busch||2085|
|4. Kevin Harvick||2060|
|5. Joey Logano||2056|
|6. Kurt Busch||2046|
|7. Ryan Blaney||2042|
|8. Kyle Larson||2041|
|9. Aric Almirola||2034|
|10. Austin Dillon||2031|
|11. Clint Bowyer||2029|
|12. Alex Bowman||2028|
|13. Jimmie Johnson||2022|
|14. Chase Elliott||2019|
|15. Erik Jones||2009|
|16. Denny Hamlin||2008|
Drivers to Watch
This isn't exactly how Harvick wanted to start the playoffs.
A blown tire in Las Vegas led to a finish of 39th, Harvick's worst finishing spot since May and only his fourth finish outside of the top 40 all season. It also broke a streak of eight top-10 performances in a row, with two wins baked into that stretch.
Blame a blown tire, which Harvick himself wasn't too pleased about:
The good news? Harvick created an incredible point cushion for himself during the regular season after taking down seven wins.
Barring another dramatic early exit, Harvick isn't in major danger of missing the first cut. Perhaps more interesting is how an angry-driving Harvick can influence the standings for other drivers as he lets out some frustration at Richmond.
Equipped with plenty of postseason experience already, a bit of adversity for a guy with alarming consistency is nothing but a good thing for viewers.
Martin Truex Jr.
It's the opposite story for Martin Truex Jr., who broke up a miserable run to end the season with a third-place finish in Las Vegas.
Entering the playoffs, Truex had finished 30th or worse in two of the final three races of the season, an uncanny turn of events for a driver who had won four races to cement himself as part of the "big three" during the regular season.
But Las Vegas changed things for the Furniture Row Racing driver, who turned a starting spot of 10th into a third-place finish with 96 laps led.
The current points leader isn't complaining, as he told NASCAR.com's Holly Cain:
"We finished third with the best car. The last three weeks we had a top-three car and we finished 14th or worse in every one of them; know what I'm saying? So it's a tough sport. A lot of things can happen, and momentum and luck being on your side, there's a lot to say for it. Obviously, they're executing, they're doing all the little things right, and that's what it takes to win these things."
It all adds up to a clear sign Truex hit on a small streak of bad luck, nothing more. He's not the most dominant Richmond driver entering the weekend, but he could leave the event looking like it while already setting up nicely for the post-cutdown races.
Keselowski is the big winner of the "get hot at the right time" sweepstakes.
But it goes deeper than that. Yes, Brad Keselowski won at Darlington and The Brickyard before Las Vegas. Yes, it is even his first three wins in a row of his career.
Perhaps most important of all, though, is that Keselowski matched some history and made some of his own next to a modern legend, as ESPN.com's Matt Willis noted: "Keselowski entered the playoffs as just the second driver to win the last two races of the regular season. Jimmie Johnson is the other, doing it in both 2007 and 2008 (and won the championship both years). But Keselowski is the first driver to do it and then win the playoff opener as well."
Never mind he also made some history for those around him:
Keselowski is red hot, but it runs deeper than a simple winning streak for a recognizable name.
The question now becomes whether he can keep it going for the duration of the playoffs, as the most recent win hasn't exactly distanced himself from the rest of the pack at the top.
A year ago, Keselowski finished 11th at this event but didn't enter it nearly as hot. And a year ago, Keselowski wasn't setting career-best marks for himself, so it will be interesting to see just how much more he can raise the bar Sunday and beyond.