The opening race in the second round of NASCAR Cup playoffs is Sunday at Las Vegas. The South Point 400 starts at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.
Four drivers — Tyler Reddick, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Michael McDowell — were eliminated from the postseason after last weekend’s cutoff race at Bristol, which shrunk the playoff field to 12. Kyle Larson leads the series in points coming off his sixth win in 2021, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch in the top five.
Hendrick Motorsports drivers Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, William Byron follow in points after Bowman and Byron escaped elimination at Bristol with a gap. Byron entered that race 18 points down and positioned as one of the bottom two drivers in points. He finished the race with a one-point advantage in the standings over Joey Logano, who is the first of four drivers sitting below the cutline to start the next round.
Brad Keselowski (-6), Christopher Bell (-9) and Kevin Harvick (-12) are next in points situated below the cutoff, and they’re looking to capitalize on the opening race of the round at Vegas to make points gains, especially since events at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval follow in the coming weeks. All four Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing cars, as well as Penske’s three teams, remain in the playoff running, while Harvick is the lone driver representing Stewart-Haas Racing still making a postseason push.
This weekend, Larson and Busch are expected to have the advantage. Larson won his first race of the season at Las Vegas in March. He enters the race with +275 odds, according to BetMGM, followed by Las Vegas native Busch (+650). Busch has one career Cup win at the track in 2009. He finished third in this year’s race behind Larson and second place finisher Brad Keselowski. Keselowski’s team, however, hasn’t had top-running speed at recent races.
Larson looks like the driver to beat this weekend. His No. 5 team returns to the track where Larson last led more than a third of the laps and kicked off a career season with his first Hendrick win. He’s coming off another victory and has a 30-point advantage over Truex in second in the standings. Blaney, however, could be a potential threat to Larson on Sunday. The drivers will start in the front row with Larson on the pole and Blaney in second.
Blaney has +1200 odds and finished behind both Busch and Hamlin at Las Vegas this year, in fifth place. Two of his three wins this year were at tracks running the 550 horsepower rules package like Las Vegas. And although he led just one lap at the track earlier this year, but he’s been known to win races after leading just a few laps. Hamlin, who led the second most laps (47) at the latest Las Vegas race could be another potential threat. But for the win? Larson. He already won three races in a row during the regular season and shows no signs of slowing down.
How to watch NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas
Race: South Point 400
When: Sunday, September 26
Time: 7 p.m. EDT
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 Laps) with stages ending on laps 80, 160 and 267
NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas starting order
Martin Truex Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.