As we reach the midway point of the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, four of the 12 drivers still eligible for this year’s championship are Ford powered. With that being said, three of the four drivers on the outside looking in on the playoff grid belong to the blue oval.
Brad Keselowski is currently 10th, two points out, Ryan Blaney is 11th, five points out while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 12th, 10 points behind. See, only eight of the 12 drivers in the standings will advance to the Round of 8. Right now, none of those three would keep going.
But, while most are worried about this weekend’s race at the Talladega Superspeedway, these three are not.
Ford has been the manufacturer to beat on restrictor plate tracks this season. There’s been three plate races in 2017 and Ford has won each of them. In fact, Stenhouse has taken home race winning trophies in two of those three races, one of which being at Talladega in May.
That’s why Stenhouse is looking forward to Sunday. He knows this is his best shot to keep advancing through the playoffs.
The Roush/Fenway Racing driver isn’t likely going to make the next round on points from Charlotte and Kansas. He finished 13th at Charlotte and I don’t see him doing much better at Kansas next weekend. He finished 11th there in the spring. Also, since his win at Daytona back in July, Stenhouse hasn’t had a top 10 finish since.
So, this is realistically his last real shot at making the Round of 8. He doesn’t have to necessarily win, but he needs to be a factor in the first two stages as well as a top five finish.
I also think Keselowski and Blaney are favorites this weekend too.
Blaney finished second at Daytona back in February and his Wood Brothers car is normally dialed in on plate tracks. With him being just five points out right now and having three top seven finishes in his last four Kansas starts, Blaney could points his way into the third round.
Keselowski is also ready to shine. He’s arguably one of the best plate racers on the circuit today. His 15th place finish at Charlotte was his worst result since Darlington. He has five wins at Talladega though and could be well on his way to a sixth on Sunday.
With Ford having the cars to beat this weekend, I look for these three to shine and all three to potentially get into the top eight of the standings with the dust settles on Sunday evening.