Four drivers face elimination from playoffs in today’s Dover NASCAR race

Pole sitter #78 Martin Truex Jr. gets into his car for practice on Saturday at Dover International Speedway. Special to the Delaware State News / Chuck Snyder

DOVER — It’s Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last race at Dover, Martin Truex Jr. is looking for another win at his home track and Jimmie Johnson could potentially win another race at the track where he already holds the track record for most wins.

There are plenty of storylines ahead of today’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway (1 p.m. start).

But one of the biggest is who will be moving on to the next round of NASCAR’s playoffs. Four drivers will be eliminated as the playoff field is cut from 16 to 12 today.

Austin Dillon watches his crew work on hios car in the garage during Cup Series practice on Friday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Dover is the first cutoff race of NASCAR’s playoff format. Entering the event Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne are the bottom four drivers who are in jeopardy of not making the next round.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. currently sits in 12th spot in the standings, the final transfer spot. Jamie McMurray is in 11th.

The race for the win at the Monster Mile and the race to ensure a spot in the final 12 means there will be action all over the track.

“It’s going to be a race within the race,” Dillon said. “You’ve got to be smart throughout and make sure you’re there at the end and put yourself in good positions. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

McMurray said communication between crews and drivers will be key to knowing just exactly where everyone stands as the race winds down.

“You are going to be dependent on the team to kind of fill you in,” McMurray said. “Like if you have to have another position or if someone is pressuring you that you can maybe give up that position and not get wrecked.”

Truex Jr., who will start on the pole, does not have to worry about all this. He clinched a spot in the round of 12 thanks to a victory in the first race of the playoffs two weeks ago at Chicago.

Truex Jr. won this race last year at Dover and is one of the favorites for the title this year. He has more playoff points than any other driver so far.

Despite a dominant run in last season’s playoffs, Truex Jr. came up short of his first point standings title which has motivated him even more this season.

“It takes so many things to come together to be in a position that I’ve been the last few years, really,” Truex Jr. said. “I’m very thankful, I’m definitely enjoying it. At the same time, there’s that chance of a championship out there. You can’t lose focus and say, this is going great, we’re going to show up to the track and everything’s going to be fine. You still have to work hard.”

Kyle Busch will start second to Truex Jr. He also won a race in the first round of the playoffs which means his spot for the second round is safe.

Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski have also clinched automatic spots in the second round on points.

Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott are the four other drivers in the playoffs who have not clinched but would likely need a disastrous day to fall out of the top-12.

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