NASCAR playoffs: Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. make it after disappointing Daytona finish? –

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are getting closer with 17 of the 26 regular-season races in the books. When the circuit heads to Chicagoland Speedway in September, 16 drivers will be competing for a championship.

Here is a look at where things stand heading into this weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway.

Locked in

Kyle Larson: The No. 42 driver clinched a spot in the playoffs in March when he won at Fontana. The points leader had yet another bad week at Daytona, finishing 29th.

Martin Truex Jr.: If you’ve followed any of the races this season, you should be familiar with Truex Jr. by now. Not only does he have two wins under his belt, but the No. 78 also owns 11 mid-race stage victories. However he did fail to place in any of the stages last week at Daytona.

Kevin Harvick: Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 4 finally clinched a playoff spot with a win at Sonoma a couple weeks ago. Harvick currently sits fourth in the regular season standings behind Kyle Busch who has yet to win.

Brad Keselowski: The No. 2 secured a spot in the playoffs when it went to Victory Lane at Atlanta. Keselowski also took the checkered at Martinsville and has 11 top-10 finishes on his resume in 2017.

Jimmie Johnson: It’s no surprise that the seven-time NASCAR champion is a lock already. Johnson’s three wins at Texas, Bristol and Dover are more than any driver this season. The No. 48 also reeled in its first stage victory of the season at Sonoma.

Ryan Blaney: An exciting first-career win at Pocono locked the descendant of Dave and Lou Blaney into the playoffs this year as he currently sits 13th in the regular season standings.

Kurt Busch: A Daytona 500 victory can go a long way. The Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 hasn’t been back to Victory Lane since, but has eight top-10 finishes this season and currently sits 14th in the regular-season points.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: The No. 17 is really beginning to look like a contender after winning at both Talladega and Daytona this season. He has yet to prove himself on short tracks, which will be critical if Stenhouse Jr. has any hopes of winning it all.

Ryan Newman: A win at Phoenix early locked Newman into the NASCAR playoffs, as he currently sits behind Kurt Busch at 15th in the regular season standings.

Austin Dillon: You may recall Dillon taking the No. 3 car back to Victory Lane at his hometown track, Charlotte. Like Newman, Dillon hasn’t been all that impressive in stage racing, but either way, he will have a chance to compete for a championship.

In (for now)

Kyle Busch: Believe it or not, the No. 18 has yet to make a trip to Victory Lane yet this season other than the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race. Busch is sitting pretty at third in the points but hasn’t won a race since the 2016 Brickyard 400.

Chase Elliott: The No. 24 posted a lackluster 22nd finish at Daytona this past weekend but has been otherwise solid throughout the season. At sixth in points, Elliott remains winless but has five top-5 finishes to show for it.

Jamie McMurray: Here is one of those drivers that hasn’t accumulated any playoff points or wins but has been solid all year. McMurray has been Mr. Consistent, with 10 finishes in the top 10 this season.

Denny Hamlin: The 2016 Daytona 500 winner was the first rookie to qualify for the Chase back in 2006 and is no stranger to NASCAR’s playoffs, but without a win yet this season Hamlin finds himself closer and closer to missing out.

Clint Bowyer: Back-to-back second place finishes at both Sonoma and Daytona have put Bowyer back into the playoff conversation. With only a few spots left, Bowyer will need to keep up that kind of consistency to make it.

Matt Kenseth: The two-time Daytona winner showed off his skills at the track last weekend earning a valuable stage victory en route to what could have been his first win of the season, but unfortunately it was not meant to be for Kenseth who is back in the playoff picture.

Down, but not out (yet)

Joey Logano: Wait a minute, didn’t he win at Richmond? Well, yes, but it doesn’t count toward the playoffs because it was an “encumbered” victory. After finishing 35th at Daytona, it may be time for Logano fans to hit the panic button.

Erik Jones: The rookie has been impressive in his series debut as he currently sits 17th in the regular-season points, but Jones will most likely need a win to lock himself in.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Although Daytona may have felt like Junior’s best chance to win, he still has plenty of opportunities to lock himself into the playoffs. The No. 88 has been to Victory Lane at Pocono two times and the series will head there at the end of July. Pocono could be the track that puts Junior over the top.


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