Round 2 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs takes place Sunday at 2 p.m. ET with the running of the ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
So far, after Friday’s qualifying session and a total of three rounds of practice on Friday and Saturday, some clear trends are emerging about who’s up and who’s down at the Granite Mile.
With that in mind, here’s this week’s up-down drill.
UP: Kyle Larson
So far this year, Larson has been the second-best driver in the series behind only Martin Truex Jr. So far this weekend, Larson has shown typical speed, qualifying second in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. He kept it up on Saturday, leading the field in the second practice and finishing a solid fifth in Happy Hour.
DOWN: Joey Logano
Four times, Team Penske tried to get Logano’s Ford through qualifying and four times it flunked, which means he never got to make a qualifying attempt. Logano will start the race in last place, and because his car flunked inspection four times, he was not allowed to practice at all in Happy Hour. Brutal.
UP: Ryan Blaney
After qualifying fourth on Friday, Blaney had the best 10 consecutive-lap average speed during Saturday’s final practice at NHMS. In four starts here, Blaney’s best finish is 11th. His Wood Brothers Racing Ford has had good speed throughout the weekend.
DOWN: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NHMS isn’t a great track for Stenhouse, who has an average finish here of 20.444. Stenhouse qualified 24th, worst of the playoff drivers, and he was 23rd and 22nd in Saturday’s two practices. Not good numbers for the Roush Fenway Racing driver.
UP: Martin Truex Jr.
Well, duh. The Cup regular-season champion has another fast Furniture Row Racing Toyota. In Saturday morning’s first practice, Truex had the best 10 consecutive-lap average speed and in the final practice, he had the fastest single lap. So he will certainly be in the mix to win again.
DOWN: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Not a great weekend so far for NASCAR’s 14-time Most Popular Driver. On Sunday, Earnhardt will start back in 15th place and practice on Saturday initially didn’t go much better, as he was 19th in the first session, although he improved to eighth in the final practice.
UP: Kyle Busch
Two playoff races, two poles for Busch, who also has two victories at NMHS, and has led 787 laps, most of any active Cup racer. With the critical first pit stall at his disposal, Busch absolutely will be one of the favorites to win on Sunday.
DOWN: Richard Childress Racing
RCR teammates Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman qualified 17th and 18th, respectively, which certainly isn’t where the team wants to be. Saturday didn’t go any better, as Dillon was 22nd and 18th in the two practices, while Newman was 18th and 25th. No bueno.
UP: Denny Hamlin
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has three victories at NHMS, including earlier this year. And he’s been fast all weekend, qualifying fourth and running decently in both practices Saturday.
UP: Kevin Harvick
Ford’s best hope this weekend might just be Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, which will roll off sixth on the grid and has good long-run speed. Harvick was sixth and second in best 10 consecutive-lap average speed during Saturday’s two practices.
DOWN: Danica Patrick
In her final appearance at NHMS for Stewart-Haas Racing, Patrick qualified back in 27th place and on Saturday, she finished 26th and 21st in the two practices. Her 10 consecutive-lap average speed in the morning practice was 18th among 22 drivers who ran 10 consecutive laps.
UP: Kasey Kahne
Maybe getting a new crew chief will help Kahne. He qualified ninth, best of the four Hendrick drivers and was a respectable ninth and 11th in the two practices. He probably won’t be a threat to win, but he might help his chances of advancing in the playoffs with a top-five or top-10 finish.