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Big 3 now a foursome: NASCAR wild card Richmond is next

September 21, 2018

Brad Keselowski (2) and Kyle Larson pass the start/finish line during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Brad Keselowski has pushed NASCAR’s “Big Three” aside at the start of the playoffs and shaken up the championship picture with nine races left in the season.

Keselowski’s victory last week at Las Vegas in the opening round of the 10-race playoffs was his third straight and moved him into title talk. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. had dominated all season and were the clear favorites prior to Keselowski’s hot streak.

Round 2 of the playoffs is a short-track Saturday night show at Richmond Raceway with its D-shaped oval, just 0.75 miles around. Then the series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for a race on a new hybrid road course and oval in next weekend’s elimination round.

That means things could get interesting fast.

Keselowski is already through to the next round because of his Las Vegas victory, and his season has been turned around behind his streak. There are six drivers in the 16-race playoff field, and a streak like Keselowski’s could get them in the mix.

“It’s kind of what the playoff format is all about, right?,” said Busch, the regular-season champion who won six times. “You come into this with guys who have a dominant regular season and then you reset the board and whoever is good in the final 10 (races) ... obviously has a great shot to win the championship.”

Dominance, history shows, has not always translated to success in the playoffs.

Keselowski won twice during the 2014 playoffs but didn’t make the finale. His Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano, won three consecutive playoff races the next year but was also eliminated before the finale.

The field of 16 is cut by four drivers after every third race. The final four in the standings race for the championship at Homestead in November.

Richmond is a challenge because contact is common and good fortune can turn a non-winning car into a winner.

“I think it’s going to be wild throughout the next couple of weeks,” said Chase Elliott, 14th in the standings.

“I feel like this year it’s about as strong as it’s been since I’ve been involved,” Elliott said of the field. “So I think it’s going to be tough all the way down through this round, the round of 12, and the round of eight and so on. I think this round is going to be tough.”

Keselowski, who is third in points, panned the idea that drivers who win races during the playoffs automatically qualify to race for the title in the finale.

“There’s so many rules as it is I would hate to add more,” he said. “I’d like to get rid of half of them. Every time somebody asks about making a new rule, I cringe.”

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