Well, it didn't take long for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs to make a dramatic swing.
By the time the collateral damage in the first playoff race was done, the "Big Three" no longer looked like a shoo-in, a new favorite had emerged, and a seven-time champion was already in the cut zone.
Because of various incidents from accidents to flat tires to incidents on pit row, half of the 16-driver playoff field finished 19th or worse in the South Point 400 on Sunday in Las Vegas. That created a shakeup at the top and bottom of the standings.
Three races ago, Brad Keselowski was just another driver in the middle of the pack of the standings. Today, after winning his third consecutive race, he has guaranteed himself a spot in the second round of the playoffs and is a serious contender to be in the final four for the championship race Nov. 18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
With 2,069 points, Keselowski is third in the standings, behind reigning champion Martin Truex Jr. (2,087) and Kyle Busch (2,085), but his hot streak going into the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway at 7:30 p.m. Saturday has changed his status from hunter to the hunted.
"To start off the playoffs with a win is really strong," said Keselowski, who won the 2012 championship. "I know it's three in a row and all that great stuff, but it's really a testament to this team."
Kevin Harvick, who led the regular season with seven wins, was involved in an accident with pole winner Erik Jones on lap 148 that knocked both cars out of the race.
Harvick, who entered the playoffs tied with Busch for the lead with 2,050 points, got just 10 points for finishing 39th. He should still advance when the playoff field is cut to 12 after the next two races, but the cushion of bonus points he gained from the regular season is already eaten up.
Jones, who entered the playoffs in 10th place, finished 40th and dropped to 15th, 19 points below the cut line.
Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is also in the cut zone.
"This could be the most important race in the playoffs," said NBCSN analyst Jeff Burton, who won 21 career Monster Energy races. "We have a three-quarter-mile track in Richmond next week, the road course in Charlotte coming up … that everyone has said will be chaos, and here we are with so many incidents in round 1. This is not what these guys wanted."
Richmond Raceway, which just completed a $30 million redesign, is hosting a Monster Energy playoff race for the first time.