Playoff Pulse: Analyzing the field after Kansas

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Playoff Pulse: Analyzing the field after Kansas
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After the second race in the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, here‘s a brief look at the playoff picture. There‘s just one race left in the Round of 8, the elimination race at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 31 which will determine the four drivers who will fight for a championship at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7.

WINNER

Kyle Larson. Kyle Larson became just the third driver to win three straight races in the playoffs courtesy of his win at Kansas, his ninth victory of the season.

RELATED: Race results | Playoff drivers in trouble at Kansas

WHO‘S HOT

Kyle Larson. By winning each of the opening two races in the Round of 8, Larson remains the only driver officially locked into the Championship 4 at Phoenix. Larson also set the record Sunday for most laps led in a 36-race race season, eclipsing Jeff Gordon‘s mark set in 2001.

Chase Elliott. Elliott fell back to seventh on the final restart of the race but charged through the field and rallied to finish second behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate despite contacting the outside wall multiple times in the final laps.

WHO‘S NOT

Ryan Blaney. Blaney had plenty of momentum on his side entering Kansas Speedway 17 points above the elimination line. But on a late restart on Lap 224, Austin Dillon got loose to Blaney‘s left and chased the car into Blaney‘s left rear, sending Blaney sideways and hard into the outside wall. That contact relegated Blaney to the garage early en route to a 37th-place finish. He falls to fifth in points, a single point outside a position to advance to the Championship 4.

Kyle Busch. The No. 18 team endured a long day of frustration at Kansas that started at Lap 22 when he cut a tire for the first time Sunday. In the middle of Stage 2, he hit the wall once again and suffered another cut tire, sending him back to pit road. Still, Busch leaves Kansas fourth in points, just one point above behind the elimination line after finishing six laps down in P28.

BUBBLE WATCH

Kyle Larson WIN

Chase Elliott +34

Denny Hamlin +32

Kyle Busch +1

Ryan Blaney -1

Martin Truex Jr. -3

Brad Keselowski -6

Joey Logano -26

NEXT RACE

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Martinsville Speedway for the Xfinity 500 next Sunday (2 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App/Peacock, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Who it favors

Martin Truex Jr. The 2017 series champion is making Martinsville his own these days, winning three of the last four races at the half-mile short track. In his eight Martinsville starts since the second Martinsville race in 2017, Truex has finished outside the top five just twice — eighth in the spring of 2019 and 22nd in the fall of 2020.

Who it hurts

Kyle Busch. Despite being a two-time winner at the half-mile paperclip, Busch‘s last four Martinsville starts have produced finishes of 14th, 19th, ninth and 10th. Before those four races, Busch notched a streak of eight consecutive top fives. After a dismal day at Kansas, the No. 18 team will need to rekindle some of that magic to ensure advancement into the Championship 4.