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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Who will make the cut at Dover?

Posted by Eric Fisher On September 30

Sixteen drivers enter the Monster Mile in the playoffs.

Only 12 will leave as part of the playoff field.

Sunday is cutdown day for the NASCAR playoffs. Four members of the 16-driver playoff field will be eliminated after the Apache Warrior 400 (1 p.m.) presented by Lucas Oil, the third and final race of the first stage of the playoffs, at Dover International Speedway.

Four drivers have already assured themselves of advancing to the Round of 12. Points leader Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch won the first two races in this stage, and Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski have clinched a spot in the next round through their points totals.

There is always intrigue about who will win, but the bigger drama at The Monster Mile on Sunday will come from the back end of the playoff field.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon enter Sunday’s race tied for the 12th and final berth in the next round of the playoffs. Ryan Newman is just one point behind them.

Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne are in more dire straits. Kurt Busch is 17 points behind Stenhouse and Dillon. It would take an unusual set of circumstances for him to pass Senhouse, Dillon and Newman, so he probably needs a win Sunday to advance. The same is true of Kasey Kahne, who is four points behind Kurt Busch.

Jamie McMurray isn’t out of the woods, either. He’s in 11th place, just nine points ahead of Stenhouse and Dillon and 10 ahead of Newman. Having been eliminated in the first round the last two years, there is little chance that McMurray will be complacent at Dover.

Only a disaster, such as a race-ending wreck or engine trouble, could knock Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick out of the playoffs Sunday, but they certainly are aware of that possibility.

Complicating matters is NASCAR’s new scoring system, which awards stage points during the race. There are three stages in each race, so drivers toward the back of the playoff field could pick up crucial points by doing well during the first two portions of the race. For Stenhouse, Dillon and Newman, points in the first or second stage of Sunday’s race could be the differences between remaining alive in the playoff race or being relegated to being irrelevant for the final seven playoff races.

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