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NASCAR prediction: playoff field set, even with new Richmond Raceway winner

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 2017 regular season wraps up Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, and then, the 16-driver playoff lineup will be set. Thirteen of those 16 slots are already claimed by drivers with race wins that weren’t classified as “encumbered” by NASCAR, leaving three positions up for grabs come Saturday night at Richmond.

With only the Richmond race remaining in the regular season, at least two of the remaining playoff spots will go to drivers by virtue of their positions in the points standings. There’s a good chance that all three of the remaining slots will go to drivers based on points, since there’s a good possibility Saturday night’s race will be won by a driver who’s already in the playoffs.

The top three drivers without wins are Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray. The next winless driver in line, points-wise, is Clint Bowyer, but he’s 91 points behind McMurray. That’s an insurmountable points tally to make up in a single race, so let’s face it. Bowyer’s only shot to make the playoffs is by winning.

If there’s not a new winner at Richmond, the playoff picture is already set. But, who’s to say there won’t be a new winner Saturday night.

This may seem like the easy way out, but I’m not seeing a new winner, so I’m going to make a prediction that the drivers provisionally in now will officially be in upon Saturday night’s checkered flag. If that’s the case, here’s the playoff lineup: Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Kasey Kahne.

While the above is my official prediction, let’s go out on a limb and assume there will be a new 2017 winner Saturday night. That would also open a can of worms surrounding which now-in driver a new winner would knock out, because things are tight between the three drivers provisionally in on points. Elliott, highest of the three, is only three points ahead of McMurray, lowest of the three. That’s close, folks.

Even though Joey Logano’s “encumbered” win from earlier this season came at Richmond, I don’t see him making up for that “encumbered” label with a second-straight, more legitimate win there Saturday night. That team just hasn’t been running well enough for me to see it winning anytime soon.

Same goes for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Sorry, folks, but I don’t see Earnhardt winning at Richmond and making the playoffs in his final season. Like Logano, he hasn’t been running well lately, either.

Honestly, if we’re going to see a new winner Saturday night, I see that winner being Kenseth, a driver provisionally in by points right now, anyway. He’s been running fairly well lately. Granted, he was outside the top-20 at the checkered flag at Richmond earlier this year after starting from the pole, but again, he’s been running pretty well as of late. He finished sixth Sunday night at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. He’s been in the top-10 at the finish in six of the last seven races, including a fourth at another short track, Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway, the race immediately preceding Bristol. And four of those top-10s were, actually, top-fives. And Joe Gibbs Racing, overall, has been running well lately, too.

 

It definitely wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kenseth in victory lane for the first time in 2017 Saturday night at Richmond.

There you have it. Even with a new winner, my prediction is that the identity of the 16 playoff drivers are already determined, at least unofficially.

Follow Auto Racing Daily on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or like Auto Racing Daily on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook (facebook.com/nascarexaminer).

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Posted by on September 5, 2017. Filed under Blog by Amanda Vincent,Featured,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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