Six past champions highlight 16-man Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff field

Wednesday, Sep 11 720
Six past champions, 13 of last year's 16 competitors, one first-time qualifier, and shockingly no Jimmie Johnson highlight the field for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
For the first time in the playoff era (2004-present), seven-time champion Johnson failed to qualify for the 10-race dash to the championship, but a plethora of storylines remain.
That includes four of the past five series champions holding four of the top five spots in the standings, all of last season's top 12 back for another shot at glory, and more.
Given that Texas Motor Speedway hosts the eighth race in the playoffs, the AAA Texas 500, here are two notes about each driver, one playoff-related and one Texas-centric to prepare you for what's to come.
1. Kyle Busch - 2,045 points
- Busch is the regular season champion for the second straight season, and his 8.2 average finish so far this year is better than any Cup champion since Bobby Labonte's 7.4 in 2000.
- If Busch needs a lift in the Round of Eight, it's likely to come at Texas Motor Speedway where he's the winningest driver with 16 checkered flags across NASCAR's top three series.
2. Denny Hamlin - 2,030 points

- Hamlin has put together a near Johnson-esque playoff run, missing only once in the past 14 years. This is the fourth time he's started the playoffs in the top three.- Hamlin won the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas in March, and the last time he won the TMS spring race (2010) he hoisted the trophy in the fall too.
3. Martin Truex, Jr. - 2,029 points- Truex has entered the dance with four wins in three straight seasons. In 2017, he added four more and took the championship. Last year, he stayed at four and finished second.- Despite having no wins at Texas, Truex is third among playoff drivers with 15 top-10 finishes at TMS. 4. Joey Logano - 2,028 points- Logano's starting his quest to become the second back-to-back champion in the playoff era, something only Jimmie Johnson has done (2006-2010).- Logano's lone win at TMS came in 2014, but since the start of 2016 no driver has scored more championship points at Texas than his 266. 4. Kevin Harvick - 2,028 points- When Harvick won his lone championship in 2014, he succeeded from the front winning a career-best eight pole awards. He's doing the same this year with five so far.- How can you say anyone else will be the favorite in the AAA Texas 500 but the man who has won it the past two years? 6. Brad Keselowski - 2,024 points- In his 2012 championship season, he entered the playoffs with three wins, 10 top-five finishes, and 15 top-10s. He's right on pace in 2019 with 3-9-14.- Keselowski has led more laps (639) without winning at Texas Motor Speedway than any other Cup Series driver. 7. Chase Elliott - 2,018 points- Elliott is currently the only driver to qualify for the playoffs every season he's competed in the Cup Series. This is his fourth appearance.- His 8.0 average finish at Texas is the best all-time at the track. 8. Kurt Busch - 2,011 points- The winner of the first playoff in 2004 has more top-fives (5) and top-10s (14) than he did at this point in his championship season.- His 20 top-10 finishes at TMS are third best in track history and tied for his personal best at any track. 9. Kyle Larson - 2,005 points- Seven of Larson's last ten races have resulted in top-10 finishes. The last time the 42 had a run like that was when he was leading the series in early 2017.- Texas is hit or miss for Larson. In his last five starts at TMS, he's wrecked out three times, finished 2nd and 5th. 9. Alex Bowman - 2,005 points- If consistency counts for anything, Bowman could be a dark horse this year. He's finished worse than 21st only twice in 2019.- Out of all the playoff drivers, Texas might be the biggest challenge for Bowman. In eight starts he's never started better than 16th and never finished better than 13th. 9. Erik Jones - 2,005 points- Fresh off a win and with the ink still drying on a contract extension, Jones just might be the most at ease of any driver as the playoffs begin.- He's already led the 11th most laps (647) at TMS all-time across all major series, ahead of even his teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin. 12. Ryan Blaney - 2,004 points- After a twelfth-place finish last year, Blaney is trying to take the No. 12 car to its best standing since Ryan Newman piloted it to 6th place in 2005.- No driver starts at Texas the way Blaney does. His 9th position starting average is the best among drivers with at least six starts at the track. 13. William Byron - 2,001 points

- No driver has won the playoff in his first try, but Byron has seven-time champion crew chief Chad Knaus leading the way.- He has a pair of top-ten runs in three starts at Texas, and his Gander Trucks win in 2017 made him the youngest winner in track history. 13. Aric Almirola - 2,001 points- 2018 was his first run in top equipment, and he turned it into a fifth-place finish. With Stewart-Haas Racing starting to find its stride with the new Mustang, Almirola could make a run.- For 15 races, Texas was a house of horrors for Almirola, but with eighth and seventh-place finishes in the past year, he could be turning a corner. 15. Clint Bowyer - 2,000 points- In 2007, he started the playoffs in the final qualifying position, won the first race, and finished the season third overall.- His 12 top-10 finishes at Texas is sixth among playoff drivers, and he was runner-up at TMS in the spring. 15. Ryan Newman - 2,000 points- Newman entered the 2014 postseason with two top-five and 10 top-10 finishes, then went on a run to finish a career-best second overall. This year he enters just one less in both categories.- He won at Texas in 2003 in just his second attempt, but he's got a single top-10 in his past 11 appearances at No Limits, Texas.  

The NASCAR Playoffs have staggered starts across all three of the national series in 2019.
The Gander Outdoors Truck Series opened its playoffs at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 15, with defending champion Brett Moffitt winning both there and 10 days later at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The series continues Friday at 8 p.m. CT with the 1st Round cutoff race at Las Vegas. This year's playoff field includes Moffitt, past champions Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter, as well as regular season champion Grant Enfinger, Stewart Friesen, Ross Chastain, Austin Hill, and rookie Tyler Ankrum.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series closes its regular season this week at Las Vegas, locking in the top 12 for a playoff run.
Texas Motor Speedway hosts playoff races for both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series this year. The Xfinity Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 is Saturday, Nov. 2, and the Cup Series AAA Texas 500 is Sunday, Nov. 3.
For ticket or race information, please visit or call the speedway ticket office at 817.215.8500. With an adult ticket purchase, accompanying tickets for children 12-and-under are $10 for the AAA Texas 500 and free for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 playoff races.
Date                Venue                 Time*                  TV Network                 Radio
Round of 16
Sun. Sept. 15  Las Vegas .         6 p.m.                  NBCSN             PRN/SiriusXM
Sat. Sept. 21   Richmond           6:30 p.m.              NBCSN            MRN/SiriusXM
Sun. Sept. 29  Charlotte**          1:30 p.m.              NBC                 PRN/SiriusXM
Round of 12
Sun. Oct. 6      Dover                  1:30 p.m.              NBCSN           MRN/SiriusXM
Sun. Oct. 13    Talladega             1 p.m.                  NBC                MRN/SiriusXM
Sun. Oct. 20    Kansas**             1:30 p.m.              NBC                MRN/SiriusXM
Round of 8
Sun. Oct. 27    Martinsville          2 p.m.                  NBCSN            MRN/SiriusXM
Sun. Nov. 3      Texas                  2 p.m.                  NBCSN            PRN/SiriusXM
Sun. Nov. 10    Phoenix**            1:30 p.m.             NBC                MRN/SiriusXM
Championship 4
Sun. Nov. 17    Homestead         2 p.m.                  NBC                 MRN/SiriusXM
* - All times listed are Central
** - Four drivers will be eliminated from playoff contention in round elimination race
Speedway Digest Staff

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