(USA TODAY Sports) -- As has historically been the case, there were some surprises as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series reached its first playoff cutoff race, at Dover International Speedway on Sunday.
A Jeffrey Earnhardt spin during pit stops led to a long red-flag cleanup during the opening stage and shuffled the restart order.
That gave Ricky Stenhouse Jr. an early edge and he held on to the 12th and final slot by two points, keeping Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne and 2017 Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch from reaching the next round.Also advancing were: Race winner Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray.
A look at the four drivers who were eliminated:
No. 31 Chevrolet
Richard Childress Racing
Best season finish: Runner-up, 2014
Best 2017 finish: First, Phoenix Raceway
Analysis: Newman fell two points short – he would have beaten 12th-place Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on tie-breakers – and was attempting to pass cars for those points as the race concluded.
Quote: “Well, we just weren’t good enough, as simple as that. We didn’t have a fast-enough race car, we didn’t have the right strategy. We qualified better, that was a plus, but these first three races were a challenge for us. It seemed like everybody else stepped up their game and we didn’t.”
No. 3 Chevrolet
Richard Childress Racing
Best season finish: 14th, 2016
Best 2017 finish: First, Charlotte Motor Speedway
Analysis: RCR’s other playoff driver also was bounced by a painfully thin four-point margin. A 16th-place finish was not good enough Sunday.
Quote: “Well, I put it back on myself in Chicago (playoff opener). I got a speeding penalty there where we were going to get stage points and a top-10 run and that just kind of crushed our points situation.”
No. 5 Chevrolet
Best season finish: Fourth, 2012
Best 2017 finish: First, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Analysis: Kahne’s uneven season ended with a first-round ejection, and now he rides out his final seven races before being replaced by William Byron at HMS. He will start fresh with small team Leavine Family Racing in 2018.
Quote: “Just track position was one of the biggest challenges for us. It was just tough … we didn’t pass really well, but had a pretty decent car, but it was a bit of a struggle to pass guys that were running the same speed, so we just kind of ran in that spot and tried to use some strategy to get up. It seemed to really work, but then on the long end of it, it didn’t work out.”
No. 41 Ford
Best season finish: 2004 champion
Best 2017 finish: First, Daytona International Speedway
Analysis: 19th, 37th and 20th in the first round is bad math in the playoffs. The Daytona 500 winner becomes the third in a row - joining Joey Logano (2015) and Denny Hamlin (2016) - to fail to make the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway since this elimination-style format began.
Quote: “Yeah, disappointed in the way that I drove all through this playoff run. I was driving at 101 percent trying to get every ounce of speed out of it. It just never had a flow for three races. We might have finished 10th here today. The wreck last week really put us in a hole. We needed (a) perfect day today and playoff stage points. We just really never did well in Stage 1 and I thought that it might be our Achilles' heel. If we add up the numbers, (that’s) probably where it was. I can’t fault anybody. We ran hard. We gave it everything we had.”
Stenhouse. After winning twice at restrictor-plate tracks this season, he looked finished heading into the 1-mile concrete track. Now he has advanced to the second round, where Talladega Superspeedway looms as the second of three races.
Busch. He started the season with great promise, but looks to 2018 without a ride and possibly without sponsor Monster Energy, which has yet to announce plans as it works on a contract extension as the series' title sponsor.
Next race: Oct. 8, at Charlotte Motor Speedway (2 p.m., NBC)