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Playoff Pulse: Analyzing the field after Dover

After the opening race of the Round of 12 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs race, here’s a brief look at the playoff picture. There are two races remaining in the Round of 12 before the field is whittled to eight, with four drivers eliminated from the postseason following the Kansas race on Oct. 20.

Winner

Kyle Larson won at Dover International Speedway for his first win since a victory at Richmond in September of 2017 — that snapped a drought of 75 winless races for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. The win also adds five playoff points to his total and locks him into the Round of 8. Larson will carry 11 playoff points into that round.

RELATED: Race results

Who’s hot

Alex Bowman. Bowman followed up his runner-up at the Charlotte Roval with a strong and steady third-place finish at Dover to give him three top-six finishes in the four playoff races so far. He entered the race minus-1 on the cutline in ninth and comes out of the race +17 to the cutline in seventh place. The Hendrick Motorsports driver nabbed runner-up finishes at Talladega and Kansas in the spring so the potential for continued strong performances is very much there.

Kevin Harvick. Harvick’s fourth-place finish was a workman-like effort. He didn’t lead any laps, but he nabbed a good points day to give him a nice buffer in the standings — especially considering the problems of others — heading to Talladega. The finish also marked his sixth straight top-seven finish this season and his 10th such finish in the past 11 races.

Who’s not

Ryan Blaney. It looked like Blaney was going to have a nice day as he scored stage points in both stages and was shaping up for a top-10 finish. However, the No. 12 Team Penske Ford lost its brakes and went to the garage before finishing 35th. Talladega has been hit-or-miss for YRB while Kansas has one of his better tracks on the Cup circuit. Given the points deficit he faces and the quality of drivers ahead of him in the standings, those races are close to must-win for him at this point.

Joey Logano. Logano had to go to the garage before the race started with a rear axle issue and returned to the track 23 laps down. The 34th-place finish leaves the reigning champion squarely on the cutline since William Byron owns the better finish in this round so far. If you are looking for a bright side, he does have three wins at Talladega — including two in the fall race under the elimination playoff format.

Chase Elliott. Elliott came into this race with a 4.4 average finish at Dover — his best track on the circuit — but he “blew up” on Lap 8 as he described over the radio and that put a serious damper on their day. The 38th-place finish leaves Elliott in a bit of a points hole in the Round of 12. He is the most recent winner at Talladega, where the round will continue next Sunday.

BUBBLE WATCH

Rank Driver Points to cutoff
5. Kevin Harvick +42
6. Brad Keselowski +20
7. Alex Bowman +17
8. William Byron +0
————— CUT-OFF LINE —————
9. Joey Logano -0
10. Clint Bowyer -4
11. Chase Elliott -7
12. Ryan Blaney -22

Next race

The Monster Energy Series travels to Talladega Superspeedway to tackle the high banks of Alabama and pack racing in the 1000Bulbs.com 500 on Oct. 13 (2 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Who it favors

Brad Keselowski. The 2012 champion has five wins at Talladega — the most among active drivers. Two of those victories have come in the playoff race during the elimination era. Keselowski is regarded as the best superspeedway racer right now and he will be a favorite at the 2.66-mile track.

Who it hurts

Martin Truex Jr. Superspeedway racing and Truex do not go together so it’s a pretty good thing that the 2017 champion scored a runner-up finish at Dover to give himself the points lead and +63 advantage on the cutline. In 58 starts at Daytona and Talladega, he has four top fives (two of those came at Talladega) and 12 top 10s (eight at Talladega). His 21.3 average finish at Talladega is tied for second-worst for him among active tracks on the circuit. And if you are looking at recent results: He hasn’t finished better than 20th in the past six races there.