In front of Chase the
Martin Truex Jr.'s regular season championship gives him an edge in the 10-race NASCAR playoffs
Martin Truex Jr. has done everything possible to position himself for his first Cup title—four wins and the regular-season championship—heads into NASCAR' sp lay offs with a healthy advantage over his competition. Truex has collected nearly five dozen bonus points for winning races, winning stages during the race sand winning the regular-season title (15 points ). All those points will carry with him into 10- race playoffs, which start Sunday at Chicago land Speedway. The bonus points introduced by NASCAR this season could play heavily into True x' s march toward the Nov .19 championship final eat Homestead-MiamiSpeedway. Only four drivers will race for the title that day, and the 16- driver playoff field will be whittled down through eliminations. Truex seemed to be a slam dunk for the title last year after winning two of the first three playoff race sin his Furniture Row Racing entry. But he was hit with issues in the second round and stunning ly eliminated. Bonus points this year could be what keeps Truex in contention ." I am really proud of everybody on this team for an amazing season so far ," Truex . "Don't expect this Furniture Row Racing team to let up. Momentum is important as we head into the playoffs. You can't turn it off and on." But the field is stacked and features a mix of varying challengers. There' s seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who would like to collect that eighth Cup to grab hold of the all- time record. His seven titles have him tied with Hall of Fame rs Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt. Kyle Larson has been themost electrifying driver this season. He won three races and challenged Truex most of the regular season for the topseed in the playoffs. He's only been in the playoffs once before he was eliminated in the first round so if he can advance this season he could wind up a contender in the championship race. T ru ex will also con tend with Joe Gibbs Racing, the sister team to his Furniture Row Racing. Gibbs last won a title two years ago with Kyle Busch, and it took most of the season to collect the win he needed to ensure a spot in the playoffs. Same for Denny Ham lin, but he'll have to start the playoffs without his crew chief. Mike Wheeler was suspended two races because because Hamlin's Hamlin's winning inning car at D arlington was illegal. The field this year includes a few newcomers, including Ryan B laney. A Team Penske driver who qualified for the playoffs driving for he Wood Brothers, he's giving one of NASCAR' sold est teams its first shot at racing for the title in decades. Ro us h Fen way Racing will be represented by Ricky St en house Jr ., who is in the playoffs for the first time. He used apair of victories at restrictor- plate tracks to get into the playoffs, but he knows his program may not be capable of competing across the entire 10-race playoff schedule. Stewart-Haas Racing is represented by former champions Kevin Harvi ck, winner of the first elimination- format playoffs, and Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch. But Busch has been mediocre all season, Harvick hasn’t matched well against Truex and Larson, and the team could find itself shut out of the playoffs earlier than expected this season.