Nearly half of this year’s 16-driver Playoff field – six drivers – is made up of drivers aged 27 or younger. Five of the six – Chase Elliott, 23, Alex Bowman, 26, Erik Jones, 23, Ryan Blaney, 25, and William Byron, 21 – have four years of fulltime Cup experience or less. Kyle Larson, 27, is in his sixth fulltime year in the Monster Energy Series. This is the first Playoff berth for Hendrick Motorsports driver Byron – the youngest competitor on the starting grid.
Seventh-ranked Elliott, a two-race winner (at Talladega and Watkins Glen), ninth-ranked Bowman (Chicago) and 10th ranked Jones (Darlington) secured their position with race wins. 11th-ranked Kyle Larson, 12th-ranked Ryan Blaney and 13th-ranked William Byron “pointed” their way in.
Among these fast six, 27-year old Kyle Larson and Blaney have already proven themselves at Las Vegas. Larson has three top-five and four top-10 finishes in seven starts at the track, including a pair of runner-up finishes. He finished second in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in 2017 and again in last year’s Playoff opener. He’s looking for his first win since the 2017 Playoff opener at Richmond.
Blaney has two top-five and four top-10 finishes and won the pole position for the 2018 March Las Vegas race – his first season driving the No. 12 Team Penske Ford. He was fifth in both 2018 races and finished 22nd in March of this year.
Erik Jones, 23, who announced last week that he has secured a one-year contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing, has one top-10 in four starts at Vegas. He won the pole position for this Playoff opener last year, only to finish 40th – last place – after being a crash midway through the race. He was 13th in March at Vegas.
On the other side of the Vegas luck, Elliott has two top-10 finishes and three DNFs in five starts. Neither Bowman nor Byron have earned a top-10 at the track.