NASCAR Roundtable: Which playoff drivers will be eliminated at Dover?

Also discussed this week are should post-race celebrations be limited in NASCAR to guard against any possible rules violations?

NASCAR Roundtable: Which playoff drivers will be eliminated at Dover?
Race winner Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford and A.J. Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Johnny Sauter, GMS Racing Chevrolet
John Hunter Nemechek, SWM-NEMCO Motorsports Chevrolet
Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota and Matt Crafton, ThorSport Racing Toyota
Brennan Poole, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Brennan Poole, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
William Byron, JR Motorsports Chevrolet
William Byron, JR Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Race winner Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Race winner Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Race winner Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Race winner Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota

While there have been no surprises with the first two winners in the Cup playoffs, what has surprised you most through the first two races?

Jim: I'm surprised we haven't seen more out of Ford camp, to be honest. Kurt Busch is a surprise to me to be in the position of being eliminated this weekend at Dover. It was no fault of his own, but Busch's involvement in the Harvick accident at New Hampshire left both in troubling positions in the playoffs. I also expected the Wood Brothers to be a little more competitive, but there is still a long way to go.

Lee: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. keeps chugging along. Despite slapping the wall in the first two races, he’s still alive in the playoffs. And although Kevin Harvick had an assist from Austin Dillon at Loudon, I would never had bet that the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team would have a DNF this early in the season.

Nick: That Toyota still has such an advantage. Yes, I know they've been ahead for most of the year, but I expected Ford and Chevrolet to step it up once the playoffs began, but if anything, Toyota just appears stronger than ever. 

Tim: My thoughts have been on how much the Ford’s have struggled with the exception of Brad Keselowski. I know Kevin Harvick said he had some help, but as fast as he’s been at times and with well Kurt Busch ran towards the end of the regular season, I never would have guessed that either of them could fall out after the first round of the NASCAR Cup playoffs.

Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne are in the bottom four heading to the first cut-off race. Of those four, who do you think has the best chance of advancing?

Jim: I would have to go with Newman right now. If anything, he has been very consistent this season and I think a solid, strong run at Dover is what is needed by those most in danger of elimination. While Newman may not have run up front and led a lot of laps this season, he always seems to be in the mix at the end of races for a good finish. I think that will carry him through to the Round of 12.

Lee: Newman was able to grind his way to second-place in the 2014. It would not surprise me if he was just good enough to capitalize on someone else’s misfortunes at Dover. Newman leads this foursome with four wins at the track and his average finish of 13.6 at the Monster Mile is five positions better than Busch or Kahne. Busch is the only other driver to win a race (2011) at Dover. But after his DNF at Loudon, the No. 41 team’s title run is on life support.

Nick: I have to agree with my colleagues, Ryan Newman. He is never spectacular, but he knows how to stay out of trouble, get the most out of a car and push his way through this playoff format. Remember that he came one position short of an incredible upset in 2014, nearly stealing the Cup title away from Kevin Harvick.

Tim: Based on experience alone of taking care of his car during a race and doing what he has to do to advance, I would have to agree with the others ... Ryan Newman probably has the best chance of the four to advance into the next round of the NASCAR playoffs after Dover this weekend.

Christopher Bell won the NCWTS playoff opener last weekend in New Hampshire. Who do you feel can get the win in Las Vegas this weekend?

Jim: While I believe Christopher Bell will contend for the win, I'm going with his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate, hometown rookie Noah Gragson, to pick up his first series victory. Gragson has had this race marked on his calendar since he first learned he would race full-time in the Truck series this season. I think Gragson is going to surprise the eight playoff contenders on Saturday night. 

Lee: Bell can win anywhere, but I like Johnny Sauter’s chances this weekend. Sauter won the last intermediate track race at Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago. His average finish at 1.5-mile tracks this season is 4.16. He won in his first start at the Vegas eight years ago and enjoys four top fives and five top 10 finishes.  Also, keep an eye on John Hunter Nemechek this weekend. After his transmission issues at Loudon last weekend, Nemechek needs a win to advance. His first two career victories came on intermediate tracks. In two starts at Vegas, his average finish in 10th.

Nick: Christopher Bell is the obvious choice, but not the one I'm going with. But John-Hunter Nemechek needs to win. He has a lot of pressure on him after the disaster they had at NHMS and he always seems to shine when the pressure is on. 

Tim: It appears that after the first playoff race, Christopher Bell will be the one to beat. However, I feel a veteran will get this weekend’s win in Las Vegas -- Johnny Sauter has the speed to win and a driver like Matt Crafton has the experience. The best story of the weekend would be Noah Gragson scoring his first truck win in his hometown.

Brennan Poole surprised the field by being the highest finishing NXS playoff contender at Kentucky last weekend. Heading to Dover, who do you think could wind up winning?

Jim: He may have gotten off to a bit of a slow start in the first playoff race, but I'm going with William Byron to pick up the win at Dover. That team is due. Byron finished sixth there in the spring race, led 80 laps in last season's Truck race at the track and clinched his K&N Pro Series East championship at Dover two years ago. 

Lee: With Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney and the Dillon brothers in the field, Reddick won’t have the lay down he did at Kentucky. However, if we’re talking series regulars, I like Cole Custer’s chances. He came from 14th in the spring to finish fourth. And he has a great teacher in Kevin Harvick. On the Chevy side, William Byron also made his debut at the Monster Mile in June and finished a respectable sixth. 

Nick: If we're talking series regulars, I'd put my bets on William Byron and Cole Custer. But the most likely outcome is that one of the Cup drivers in the field will take the win. I'd go with Erik Jones.

Tim: I think William Byron could make some noise and score the win this weekend in Dover. However, I’m going to stick with my veterans this week and I think Elliott Sadler will represent the NASCAR veterans in the field and pick up the playoff win as he continues his quest for the Xfinity Series crown for JR Motorsports.

There has been discussion this week by Dale Jr. and others about limiting post-race celebrations with burnouts, etc. How do you feel about this?

Jim: Until someone can provide some evidence that a burnout has somehow hidden a rules violation - which no one has by the way - I think the whole issue is a creating a problem where there isn't one. Some of the same people who claim NASCAR has too many rules are not asking for one regarding victory celebrations. Do we really believe victory burnouts is one of the most pressing issues in the sport today? Why is it the people who make the loudest noise about what winning drivers do are those not winning the races? Coincidence? 

Lee: As entertaining as some of these celebrations can be, I’m against anything activity that compromises NASCAR’s ability to tech the cars. From Chad Knaus’ “crack the back” directive at Talladega to a variety of drivers turning the steering wheels to reset the rear end of the cars, competitors have been very creative when it comes to destroying evidence. That’s why I respect Adam Stevens warning Kyle Busch in advance in post-race on Sunday not to do anything too crazy that would bring attention to the team. If everything is on the up and up, there’s no reason to go overboard.

Nick: I'm all for a celebratory burnout, but tearing the car to pieces should not be allowed. Whether that be shredded tires ripping up the rear-end or a driver slapping the wall mid-cyclone. Especially in the playoffs with so much on the line. 

Tim: Although I still believe traction control is alive and well in NASCAR, I feel burnouts wouldn’t do much to change post-race tech. Well, unless you’re old enough to remember when Darrell Waltrip’s car owner built a motor that was designed to last just long enough in The Winston and mysteriously blow up right after he took the checkered flag. Somehow that motor didn’t survive to go through post-race tech. I think keeping crew members away from the cars is one of the best things to do for now.

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