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After three races, the first round of the 2019 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series playoffs are over.
Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Erik Jones have all dropped out of the title fight.
With four drivers out, 12 remain for round 2, beginning this weekend at Dover.
The Round of 12 will come to an end at Kansas, two weeks from now.
Four drivers will be eliminated from championship contention.
While the Round of 16 is already over, it did offer us a first glimpse at the championship figure.
Of course, it’s still early days into the postseason and we still have seven races left.
Here is how the championship battle seems to be shaping up following the Round of 16’s conclusion.
Martin Truex Jr. was the most dominant driver in the postseason’s first round.
The 2017 champion and 2018 runner-up stood out as an early front-runner in the championship fight.
The Joe Gibbs driver scored back-to-back wins in the first two races, and was the first driver to do so since 2013.
He added a solid seventh place finish at Charlotte, a race in which all Toyotas struggled.
Truex would hold a comfortable 12-point lead under the old Chase format.
Kevin Harvick is definitely back, and the 2014 champion is always a threat.
The Stewart-Haas driver finished behind Truex in the Las Vegas opener and narrowly missed out on a win at Charlotte.
Harvick’s other result was a seventh place at Richmond in a race dominated by Toyota.
Having only missed out on the Championship Four once since the new format’s introduction, he is almost a lock to make it to Homestead again.
Not to mention that #4 is coming off an eight-win season.
His current form shows that the 20-race drought to start the season is already a thing of the past.
Brad Keselowski wasn’t particularly flashy in the Round of 16, but he did deliver.
The Team Penske driver quietly worked his way into third place.
Keselowski was the only driver with top 5 finishes in all three races.
The 2012 champion was fourth at Las Vegas, third at Richmond and fifth at Charlotte.
He now has five top 5 finishes in the last six races this season.
While his last win came nearly five months ago, Keselowski has shown enough pace to figure among the contenders.
To close out the early top 4, there is Chase Elliott.
In what has been an average year at best for Chevrolet, Elliott still stood out.
The Hendrick Motorsports’ dominant drive at Charlotte was his third win of the season.
Only Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have won more races than him.
Truex, Harvick and Elliott have won six of the last eight races this season.
For much of the regular season, the trio of Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin shared the top 3 in points.
The trio, however, did not do so well during the Round of 16.
Busch was arguably the biggest disappointment.
The regular season champion had a troubled run at Las Vegas, hitting the wall early on and finishing down in 19th.
He bounced back with a second place at Richmond, leading the most laps and capturing the second stage.
Busch crashed out and scored an early DNF at Charlotte.
The 2015 champion likely won’t have to worry too much about points.
Busch has 46 bonus points, which already give him a comfortable advantage over ninth place.
While he could afford another bad round, Busch will need to regain his early season form before the Round of 8.
His current performance won’t be enough to qualify for Homestead.
The same is also true for Hamlin and Logano.
Hamlin also had a bad night at Vegas, finishing 15th while trying to figure out his setup.
He improved and finished third in his home race at Richmond.
Another bad race followed, however, and he finished down in 19th at Charlotte after getting caught up in other incidents.
Logano did better than his two rivals, although it wasn’t enough to figure among the contenders.
The reigning champion won the opening stage at Vegas in dominant fashion, but dropped down to ninth at the checkered.
He finished 11th at Richmond and tenth at Charlotte.
The consistency was definitely there, and Logano likewise won’t have any trouble getting out of the Round of 8.
However, the three drivers will need to regain their regular season form in order to advance to the Championship Four.
Right now, Truex, Harvick, Keselowski and Elliott are looking like very good picks for the championship.
The latest odds for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship are provided by 888Sport NJ.
|Truex Jr, Martin||+350|
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