Las Vegas was a spot that was circled on a lot of drivers’ schedules this season. The reason? They’re fearful of the Charlotte ROVAL. No one wants to go into the ROVAL facing a must win. So, in order to not be in that position, you had to have started the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on the right footing.
Unfortunately for a few, they didn’t.
While Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch finished 15th and 19th respectively, they’ve built up a ton of playoff points in their bank to remain in a solid position. For Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones and Kurt Busch, well they haven’t.
They sit as the bottom three right now in the playoff standings and honestly two of them are likely facing must-win scenarios over the next two weeks.
For a second straight year, Jones found early troubles in Vegas. Last year, he was caught up in a crash while leading with Kevin Harvick. This year, his car got stuck in second gear at the start of Stage 2. He’d finish 36th last Sunday and falls to 26 points below the cutoff line.
Bowyer, had a bad handling race car and finished 25th. He’s 15th, 21 points out. Kurt Busch crashed and finished last in 39th. He’s 14 points out in 14th.
With looking ahead of these drivers’ past stats at Richmond and the ROVAL, they have to be concerned.
Jones, has never finished in the top five at Richmond. In fact, he has just one top 10 in five tries.
Busch, has one top five in his last eight Richmond starts. Furthermore, his last three finishes there are 11th, 18th and 11th respectively.
Bowyer, did finish third back in the spring to go along with three straight top 10 finishes.
What’s going against Busch and Bowyer though is Joe Gibbs Racing, Jones’ organization has won three straight Cup races on the .75-mile short track and six of the last eight overall there. Throw in Team Penske and JGR/Penske has won nine of the last 11.
For drivers facing must wins, that’s a tall task to ask of them. If they fall further back, it’s onto the ROVAL…
But, they’re not the only ones who has to worry. Ryan Blaney is only +12 in 10th but he’s never finished better than 18th in seven Richmond starts. Aric Almirola is 11th but he’s finished 17th or worse in two of his last three Richmond tries including no top 10’s on the season since Daytona and no top fives since Phoenix.
Ryan Newman meanwhile is six points below the cutoff but has seen top 10 finishes in his last 12 Richmond starts including seventh and third respectively in 2017 and ninth this past spring.