Jacksonville Sports Day

NASCAR: Busch Leads Playoff Contenders into Round of 12

The NASCAR Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season champion Kyle Busch is especially eager to start the second round of the 2019 Playoffs after a rough opening round with a pair of uncharacteristic outcomes – at Las Vegas (19th) and at the Charlotte ROVAL (37th).

A runner-up at Richmond in between those races, however, plus some hard-earned Playoff points collected through the regular season have kept him atop the newly-reset standings as the sport heads to Dover International Speedway for Sunday’s Drydene 400 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Busch leads his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. – a two-time winner in the opening three races of the Playoffs – by five points heading to Dover.

Their JGR teammate Denny Hamlin – like Busch, a four-time winner this season – is third in the points reset and trails Busch by 16. Twelve drivers remain eligible to contend for the championship with races at Dover International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Kansas Speedway to decided which eight advance to the next round.

The 15-point regular season championship bonus Busch earned has certainly come in useful.

Before adding regular season bonus points that he diligently collected, Busch was technically seventh in points earned in the three Playoff races. However, he reassumes the lead thanks to the series-best 46 Playoff points that count toward each Playoff round.

After dominating the early season – tying a NASCAR record with 11 top-10 finishes in the opening 11 races and accumulating four victories by early June, Busch’s pace has slowed somewhat.

The driver of the No. 18 JGR Toyota led a race best 202 laps and finished second to Truex in the Richmond Playoff race, but it’s his only top-10 finish in the last four races.

Dover’s “Monster Mile” however, has been a positive venue for Busch. He finished 10th there in May and has three career wins – in 2008, 2012 and 2017. The 2015 series champion finished in the top-10 in three of the last four Dover races. In total, he has 12 top fives and 18 top 10s in 29 starts.

Busch has led laps in five of the last six Dover races. And his record in the fall at the track is notably better than the spring version. Busch has a pair of runner-up finishes (in 2015-16), a victory (2017) and an eighth place in the last four October races.

As if often the case with the versatile Busch, he has celebrated plenty in Dover’s Victory Lane thanks to success in NASCAR’s other two national series, as well. He has five NASCAR Xfinity Series and four NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series wins at Dover.

“You strive to go out there and win every single time you’re on the racetrack, but if you put yourself in a bad spot or try or push too hard and get yourself out of whack and crashed or something like that, obviously that’s going to be way worse for yourself,’’ Busch said. “You have to be mindful of those situations and you have to pick and choose your battles.’’

Giving Chase to the defending Dover winner
Hendrick Motorsport’s star Chase Elliott shows up in Delaware in a perfect mindset to defend his victory from last year’s Dover Playoff race. He hoisted a trophy last Sunday after winning at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL – the final race of the Playoff’s opening round.

The driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 opens the Round of 12 on a positive note at one of his best tracks, statistically speaking.

In seven Dover starts, Elliott has one win and six top fives. His “worst” showing at the track is 12th. He won this October Playoff race last year and in May, won the pole position, led the most laps (145) and finished fifth.

His average finish at the “Monster Mile” is 4.4. Only 11-time Dover winner Jimmie Johnson (113.3) has a better Driver Rating than Elliott’s (108.3). In addition to his win last year, Elliott was runner-up in 2017’s Playoff race and finished third in his first two races at the track in the 2016 season.

Some drivers believe in momentum, whether or not Elliott does, the 23-year old has plenty of it. His victory at Charlotte last Sunday was his third on the year. Interestingly, 10 of his 13 top-10 finishes are actually top-5 finishes. He’s finished in the top-10 in six of the last eight races, including a win from pole position at Watkins Glen.

The good vibes aren’t limited to Delaware either. Elliott has won at both the other tracks in this round of the Playoffs.

He won at next week’s Talladega Superspeedway earlier this season and is the defending Playoff race winner at Kansas Speedway, where the series races Oct. 20 and four more drivers will be eliminated from postseason contention.

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