In the lead up to the NASCAR playoffs, we’ve often talked about the unpredictability of stock car racing. Although there are only 16 drivers involved in the points for the first rounds of the playoffs, there’s still a complete field of racers, and incidents are as much a risk as they are at any regular weekend during the season.This weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was an important reminder that nothing is guaranteed in the post season, and Kyle Busch is the driver who came out on top, after capitalizing on a major race incident that impacted most of the field.

New Hampshire: The Race as it Happened

The day was relatively uneventful until a major incident on track left Kyle Busch looking at nothing but a cloud of thick smoke. The incident was enough to put some playoffs drivers out of contention, as many got caught up in the chaos. Busch, being a driver who is often referred to as “Rowdy”, wasn’t about to let some smoke spoil his day and his race. He made it through the cloud and the multi-car crash within it, and emerged in front of the pack, and completely owned the race from that point onward. Talking about it afterwards, Busch was still peaking with excitement. He told the press “That was pretty intense. That was some Days of Thunder stuff over there. You couldn’t see anything.”Despite the visibility being poor in the moment, Busch powered through the smoke. Other drivers weren’t so lucky. Martin Truex Jr., arguably the strongest favorite to win the playoffs, had led the race for 112 laps before the accident. Although he lost his position from the pile up, he was able to put in a strong remainder of the race, and still finished in 5th place. This means that he’s safe in the playoffs for now, no matter what happens before the driver list shrinks for the Round of 12. Not every driver was as lucky, again illustrating just how unpredictable these final stages of the year can be. Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick were some of the biggest losers of the day. Harvick was hit by another car which led to the huge spin that cause blinding smoke across the track, Kurt Busch then collided with Harvick, unable to see anything ahead. Truex took damage in the incidence put it was only on the rear of his car, and he was still able to complete the race. For Kurt Busch, this mean that his playoffs hopes will end here. Looking at the current standings, if he doesn’t win in Dover then he’s not going to make the cut into the second round of the knockout tournament. Talking about the race, Kurt was clearly disappointed, but still had some fighting words. He said that “It’s all in. We’ll go there with everything we’ve got. Like we have been.”For Kevin Harvick, the situation is not quite as bad. He should have enough playoffs points that he’ll make it to the next round, regardless of what happens in the upcoming race. Harvick spoke briefly after the event, telling the media that “I couldn’t really tell where I was with all the smoke and everything that was happening, but just got hit from behind and spun out.”

Who Finished in the Top 5?

The Top 5 places in the race were all taken up by playoffs drivers. It’s highly important to get as many points as possible during these final stages of the season, so the drivers at the top will be happy that they can add to their points tally, while increasing their chances of appearing not only in the Round of 12, but also for the Round of 8 and the Championship Round. 5th Place Finish – Martin Truex Jr. 4th Place Finish – Brad Keselowski 3rd Place Finish – Matt Kenseth 2nd Place Finish – Kyle Larson 1st Place Finish – Kyle Busch

What Does This Mean for the Points Standings?

A race win in the playoffs can be a huge boost, in terms of both motivation and overall points standing. Even when drivers don’t win, it’s important to collect as many points as possible during this stage, to avoid being knocked out when we go into the next round. Drivers like Jimmie Johnson (14th Place Finish) will be trying to gather as many points as possible, to continue being an underdog pick for the ultimate championship finish.Here is the current leaderboard for the drivers in the Round of 16 playoffs.

  • Martin Truex Jr. – 2149 Points
  • Kyle Larson – 2125 Points
  • Kyle Busch 2129 Points
  • Brad Kselowski – 2106 Points
  • Denny Hamlin – 2088 Points
  • Matt Kenseth – 2087 Points
  • Jimmie Johnson – 2076 Points
  • Ryan Blaney – 2070 Points
  • Chase Elliott – 2070 Points
  • Kevin Harvick – 2069 Points
  • Jamie McMurray – 2053 Points
  • Ricky Steinhouse Jr. – 2044 Points
  • Austin Dillon – 2044 Points
  • Ryan Newman – 2043 Points
  • Kurt Busch – 2027 Points
  • Kasey Kahne – 2023 Points

For some drivers the standings don’t change much, but for a driver like Kurt Busch, this means that he enters a make it or break it part of the season. Being just above the bottom of the table, Busch is either going to have to win, or there will need to be some serious misfortune for the front running and midfield drivers. For now, Jimmie Johnson appears to be safe, as he aims to win a historical 8th Cup Series championship.The remainder of the season is going to be hugely exciting, but it could also be upsetting for some fans and drivers. Just like any NASCAR playoffs season, we can’t say with any certainty who is going to win, and even the favorites have a chance of running into trouble at any stage of the race.