For the second straight year, the opening race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs in Las Vegas didn’t go the way that the entire Joe Gibbs Racing team would have envisioned.
Yes, Martin Truex Jr. won the South Point 400 but his teammates finished 15th (Denny Hamlin), 19th (Kyle Busch) and 36th (Erik Jones) respectively.
Luckily for Hamlin and Busch, they had enough playoff points gathered up to weather the storm. Busch, is still fourth in standings (+36) while Hamlin is seventh (+29). For Jones though, he didn’t have many playoff points built up as he now falls to last in the standings (-26) in a likely must win situation either this week or next in Charlotte in order to advance out of the first round.
I do think that all four can rebound this weekend as a whole in Richmond.
Hamlin, has seven top six finishes in his last eight starts on the .75-mile short track. While he hasn’t had a top five finish since his win last month in Bristol, I do think his No. 11 Toyota can pull some separation on the bubble again on Saturday night.
Busch, has six wins and 21 top 10 finishes in 28 Richmond starts. He’s scored four top two finishes in his last eight races and swept both races there last year. While he’s riding a 13 race winless streak, Saturday night’s race is the time it could end.
Truex, won the Richmond race this past spring and finished third in last year’s playoff race. He has also led 100 or more laps in five of his last six starts there. I’d think he’s going to be a factor come Saturday too.
Jones has to be the most worried. He’s yet to finish in the top five at Richmond including an 11th place run in this race last year and 14th in the spring. His teammates could all finish in the top five though while he’s the one that needs it the most.
Also, JGR has won three races in-a-row at Richmond and six of the last eight too.