The time has come for the NASCAR Cup Series to start the 16th edition of the playoffs. It all started as the “Chase” in 2004 but has since evolved to a playoff format of three rounds, 16 drivers, with one champion left standing by time the checkered flag flies in Phoenix this November.
The last three years we’ve had Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. each in the Championship 4. You had Brad Keselowski (2017), Joey Logano (2018) and Denny Hamlin (2019) as the “other” driver each of the last three years and two of them finished fourth out of the four. Logano, was the outlier and he won the championship against them in 2018.
So, who makes it to the Championship 4 this year? Who’s the outright champion? What happens between Darlington this weekend and Phoenix later this fall?
I have it broke down here.
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- Champion: Kevin Harvick
- Bold Prediction 1: No Penske drivers make the Championship 4
- Bold Prediction 2: Kyle Busch is eliminated in the Round of 12
- Bold Prediction 3: Chase Elliott wins Martinsville and puts a Chevy in the Championship 4 for the first time since 2016
- Bold Prediction 4: 3 of the 4 Championship 4 last year make it this year. 3rd straight year of that trend?
Three tracks make up the first round. Coincidentally enough, all are night races. We go from Darlington to Richmond to Bristol. Here’s my predictions for these.
Darlington – Denny Hamlin (Winner)
Richmond – Martin Truex Jr. (Winner)
Bristol – Chase Elliott (Winner)
Eliminated: Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, Cole Custer, Alex Bowman
Not surprising on the guys eliminated here. Bowman has two top five finishes since the pandemic started and his last three Bristol finishes being 23rd, 15th and 37th and four Richmond finishes with HMS being 18th, 12th, 17th and 23rd. Byron, has two top five all year and none at either of the three tracks this round. DiBenedetto needed to win Bristol to get by but Chase Elliott snags the win and Cole Custer has a solid round but the other 12 that carry on do so.
Las Vegas – Kevin Harvick (Winner)
Talladega – Joey Logano (Winner)
ROVAL – Martin Truex Jr. (Winner)
Eliminated: Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch
This is where the lack of playoff points hurt the Busch brothers. Kyle’s last two Vegas finishes are 19th and 15th respectively. Talladega is, well Talladega and the ROVAL he struggles on. Kurt has three finishes of 21st or worse in his last four Vegas starts, then again, to Talladega, and banking on a ROVAL win isn’t good.
Dillon and Bowyer just run out of good finishes to compete with the other 12 in this round to move on.
In what is the toughest round of the playoffs, plenty of fireworks should fly.
Kansas – Denny Hamlin (Winner)
Texas – Kevin Harvick (Winner)
Martinsville – Chase Elliott (Winner)
Eliminated: Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola
Hamlin won at Kansas last month, Harvick has won the Fall Texas race it seems like every year and Elliott snags Chevrolet’s first Championship 4 driver since Jimmie Johnson in 2016.
Phoenix – Kevin Harvick (Winner)
He has seven Phoenix wins since 2012. He was runner-up in the spring race. In fact, in the 17 races run in the desert since 2012, Harvick has seven wins, three runner-ups, three fifth place finishes, a fourth and a sixth place run. That’s 15 of 17 races right there. He hasn’t finished worse than ninth since the spring race in 2013.
Hamlin, won this race last year and fifth in the spring but 19th this past March.
Truex, was sixth last fall and second last spring but 32nd in March. Elliott has two top five finishes at Phoenix in nine Cup tries.