The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs waved goodbye to racing great Jimmie Johnson during the first wave of eliminations.
Those left standing are headed to Dover International Speedway for the Gander Outdoors 400, a new wrinkle in the playoff journey after realignment. There, names like Martin Truex Jr. will try to overcome the after-effects of a major end-of-race wreck last time out as drivers attempted to stave off elimination.
With only 12 drivers remaining and plenty of those on the outside looking in, aiming to play spoiler, Dover should once again hold one of the top events of the year. Here's everything to know about Sunday's affair.
Where: Dover International Speedway
When: Sunday, 2 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live
Gander Outdoors 400
1. Kyle Busch
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Martin Truex Jr.
4. Brad Keselowski
Note: Qualifying rained out; full start list set by points.
2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings
|1. Kyle Busch||3090|
|2. Brad Keselowski||3040|
|3. Ryan Blaney||3018|
|4. Kevin Harvick||3085|
|5. Martin Truex Jr.||3058|
|6. Clint Bowyer||3025|
|7. Joey Logano||3019|
|8. Kurt Busch||3019|
|9. Chase Elliott||3013|
|10. Kyle Larson||3006|
|11. Aric Almirola||3001|
|12. Alex Bowman||3000|
|14. Austin Dillon||2071|
|15. Denny Hamlin||2053|
|16. Erik Jones||2046|
Drivers to Watch
Martin Truex Jr.
Truex is angry heading into Sunday.
The Furniture Row Racing driver seemed to have a shot at a checkered flag in the previous race before Johnson came out of nowhere and caused both men to wreck out.
It should go without saying, but Truex wasn't exactly thrilled with the situation:
Johnson's attempt to save his season was a polarizing move and resulted in Truex's 14th-placed finish at a time when he was finally starting to re-establish momentum.
Before the odd finish, Truex had landed third at two consecutive events, breaking himself free of a downward trend that had seen him finish outside of the top 10 in four consecutive events.
Now it is back to non-top-10 land for Truex, who has four wins but lost out on some serious playoff positioning as a result of the wreck. He will undoubtedly be motivated to get back on track in Dover, but an erratic couple of months could be hard to overcome with so much at stake for the entire field.
The big winner after the Johnson-Truex debacle, Ryan Blaney now has to find a way to keep the momentum going.
After playing the points game well all year, Blaney was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on some chaos and grab his first checkered flag of the season.
The outcome was a surprise to him as well.
"But we put ourselves in a good spot, and it worked out for us," Blaney said, according to USA Today's Michelle Martinelli. "When I was running third, I was just thinking about points. We were good on points, and I was cool with just riding around in third. But then that situation happened, and we happened to be there."
Winning in dominant fashion is something fans have been repeatedly hit over the head with this year thanks to the likes of Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, who have combined to tally 14 wins (seven apiece).
But there should still be room in the hearts of fans for an opportunist like Blaney, who sits in a great position on the leaderboard, much like he has in most races this year. If he's picking and choosing his spots the rest of the way—like he has much of the season—he could sneak his way past a few more cut lines.
The No. 12 Ford is one to keep in mind while the heavyweights soak up much of the attention on the broadcast.
Busch made a devastating mistake in Charlotte last time out that saw him land 32nd.
Just don't call it a rookie mistake.
Most of the press ahead of the race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval centered on the fact it was a great unknown because it was a rare road-course hybrid for a playoff event. Near the end of the race, Busch and other big names like Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski misjudged a turn and slammed into a barrier, ending their event.
Busch spent the post-race media run explaining what happened, as Motorsport.com's Nick DeGroot shared: "We'd just been there the longest we had been on tires, and I guess all of us are just stupid and don't know where to brake for the corner considering what our tires look like, and so we just all drove off into a 90-degree wall for something to do because we had nothing else better to do."
Unlike Truex, Busch wasn't hurting to keep a good streak going at least. He's sitting on seven wins, and over his four prior events, he had finished eighth or better, hitting Victory Lane in Richmond most recently.
To top it all off, Busch won this race a year ago, so he's looking to make it two in a row as the series returns to a normal event—one he has to enter as the favorite.