Miles the Monster Closes out the Round of 16

When the checkered flag flies on the Citizen Soldier 400 from Dover International Speedway (2:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN) Sunday afternoon, four of the 16 Chase drivers will have their championship hopes dashed and be eliminated from the 2016 playoffs.

Coming off his win last weekend in New Hampshire, Kevin Harvick doesn’t have to worry about advancing to the Round of 12, as his win equals as an automatic advancement. Last season, Harvick dominated this race and won, vaulting himself to the next round. He was in a win-or-go-home scenario, and he delivered when the pressure was on.

Martin Truex Jr. is another driver who doesn’t have to worry about advancement. His win in the opening Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway took care of that for the No. 78 team. As for the other 14 drivers, they have no guarantees to advance to the next round.

The four drivers that currently sit below the cut line are Jamie McMurray (-5), Austin Dillon (-5), Tony Stewart (-11) and Chris Buescher (-30). Kyle Larson is 12th and has a five-point cushion over his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate in McMurray, and Kurt Busch currently is 11th with a 15-point lead over the 13th place spot in the Chase Grid standings.

Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth all have significant points margins over the cut off (all 25 or more) and just need solid runs to remain in the top 12.

Long story short: if you have a good top-10 finish, you’ll be fine. Clinch scenarios for all drivers can be seen here.

But we know that Miles the Monster can come out and bite whoever, whenever and however he pleases. Last season, it was six-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

The No. 48, who has won a whopping ten times at Dover (most all-time in NASCAR history), ended up finishing in 41st place multiple laps down. But it wasn’t really Dover that bit that team, per se. It was a cheap, $5 part that malfunctioned on the car. A rear axle seal broke on the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, and Johnson was ultimately eliminated.

He had a 25-point cushion heading into the final race. With Harvick vaulting from 15th place with his win and Johnson falling from fifth to 13th, it was game over for the No. 48. Just some plain old bad luck can do you in. It could happen to a title favorite this weekend.

Last year, McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also had an intense battle for the 12th and final transfer spot. The No. 88 and No. 1 finished tied based on points when the race ended, but the tiebreaker was the best finish in the final race of that round, which Earnhardt Jr. beat McMurray to by a mere one position. The two hugged it out post-race, but the fact that one position on the racetrack (and zero points) can determine whether or not you keep your championship hopes alive creates even more drama and demands even more precision.

I’m taking Kevin Harvick (again) to win Sunday. I did a coin flip on this week’s episode of Victory Lane, and Happy was the winner. I picked Harvick to win last weekend, so I’m going for two in a row. Enjoy the races, everybody. It ought to be one of the best of the season.

NOTES: The second race of the Xfinity Chase (Drive Sober 200, NBCSN) will be Saturday at 2 p.m. ET from Dover. The second race of the Camping World Truck Chase (DC Solar 350, FS1) will be on Saturday evening from Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 8:30 p.m. ET.