Kyle Larson (+270) — The favorite for good reason right? Larson, won 10 times and set a record for most laps led in a championship winning season last year. That felt like it was just the beginning. The problem is, only two drivers since 1995 has repeated a title the following year. Is Larson going to be the third?
Chase Elliott (+410) — Two straight Championship 4 appearances and has made it to the Round of 8 for five straight years now. Can he adapt to the new car the quickest? The problem is, he hasn’t won a race on an oval in over a year as the last occurred at Phoenix in 2020. Both wins last year came on road courses…
Denny Hamlin (+600) — He’s also made it to the final round in three straight years now but doesn’t have any hardware to show for it. Is this the year Hamlin can finally earn a title? He had 19 top fives last year. The driver to finish third in the Championship 4 has made it to at least the Round of 8 in each of the last 5 years. No one has more playoff appearances (15) than Hamlin.
William Byron (+800) — You just get the feeling like Byron is close. He was 50-1 at this point last year and now down to 8-1. He finally got his win in 2020 and closed that season with four top eight finishes in his final five starts to go along with nine top 10’s over the last 12 overall. He started 2021 with 15 top 11 finishes in the first 18 races. The only ones he didn’t get a top 11 was at two road courses and a superspeedway. He was arguably a top five driver for most of the playoffs again. If he can find more playoff points in the regular season and replicate his 2021 postseason magic, he’s your top sleeper.
Kyle Busch (+850) — Can he bounce back? Busch is the only multi time champion in the sport left. He’s had five championship 4 appearances in the last seven years but none in the last two. He’s only scored four wins in his last 94 starts. Is the new car just what the doctor ordered for him?
Martin Truex Jr. (+850) — He has five Championship 4 appearances in the last seven years. He’s also entered last year having only two wins in his last 43 races run too. Then came a four win season and all the momentum back. The driver to finish 2nd in the points the previous season made it to at least to the Round of 8 five of the last six years.
Ryan Blaney (+1100) — Is this finally his year. Blaney, has always shown promise but never has quite delivered yet. Last year felt like a breakthrough for him though. His first multi-win season of his career and a trek all the way to the Round of 8. I don’t see him slowing down now. The only thing that’s plagued him in years past has been consistency and the tracks in the first round. Darlington, Richmond and Bristol aren’t usually good for him. Last year, he found the playoff points accumulated in the regular season and just a solid round got him by. That allowed him to fight for a final round berth which he ultimately came up just short. If he can replicate 2021 in 2022 with a little bit more speed, watch out.
Joey Logano (+1300) — Trends say he’s the favorite since his Championship 4 appearances only come in even years. Plus, he was 7-1 last year in the preseason, so you’re getting the Clash winner for 13-1 odds right now. The thing is, can they find the pace in the playoffs to get there? That’s what’s lacked him the last two seasons. In 2020, Logano, won two of the first four races then had just one top five and five top 10’s in the next 13 races run during COVID. But, he also had nine top five finishes and 13 top 10’s over his final 15 races too as he marched all the way to the Championship 4. Last year, he won just once and had only three top fives over the final 20 races. What’s 2022 hold…
Kevin Harvick (+1600) — He’s an intriguing one and a must pick for these odds. Harvick, had a series high nine wins in 2020 but slumped to none in 2021. Now there’s a new car. Does this help SHR close the gap to the front again? The thing is, Harvick started gaining more speed as the season went on last year with eight top 10’s in the 10 race postseason including four of which being top fives. Does the new car hurt that momentum? Harvick, has five final round appearances in eight years but none in the last two. He still finished tops in points among the best of the rest (5th) those two seasons. Last year was the first that he failed to make it to the Round of 8 too.
Brad Keselowski (+2200) — I’m not so sure this is his year. He went from 7-1 last year at Penske to 22-1 with RFK. That’s due to now being part of a team that’s largely struggled for the better part of the last decade. Keselowski is trying to make them better. A playoff berth is the first goal for them at the moment.
Alex Bowman (+1800) — This one keeps ascending. Bowman, was 16th in the final standings in 2018. He was 12th in 2019 and sixth in 2020. Yes, he was only 14th last year but one could say last year was his breakout year with scoring four wins including one in the penultimate race of the year at Martinsville. Bowman just needs more consistency and now that he’s found victory lane multiple times in a season, this could be his chance.
Christopher Bell (+2200) — Worth a look here despite being 50-1 at this time last year. The third year driver won his first race last season and looked good at times. He made it to the second round of the playoffs and is back with the same team for the first time of his three year career. I expect a breakout from Bell this season.
Kurt Busch (+3000) — You get a former champion at 30-1 odds? Busch, is a winner and aggressive. He’s now with essentially Joe Gibbs Racing equipment. We saw what Kyle Larson did in his first year with top equipment in going from Ganassi to Hendrick. What can Busch do in going from Ganassi to Gibbs? The only concern is that he’s had five opening round exits in the playoffs. He does have 15 years of playoff experience though to his credit.
Tyler Reddick (+4200) — He was a breakout performer last year but just didn’t win. He unfortunately was bounced in the first round of the playoffs. But, the rest of the postseason he was fast. In fact, he and Byron stole the show as the non championship eligible drivers in the field for a majority of the second and third rounds. Can he find victory lane in 2022 in his third season?
Top Championship Trends
- Repeat Champ? Not likely — Jimmie Johnson was the last driver to repeat as a Cup Series champion. He did so in his five year reign from 2006 through 2010. Since, no one has repeated as a champion. Jeff Gordon was the last before Johnson to do so as he did it in 1997 and 1998. Since 1995, those are the only two instances where a driver won consecutive titles? Can Larson accomplish this feat in 2022? Just once in the last three years has the defending champion made it back to the Championship 4 the following season. Elliott did so last year. The last 2 before him were bounced in the Round of 8 and Round of 12.
- The driver to finish 2nd in the points the previous season made it to the Championship 4 in 2 of the last 4 years and at least to the Round of 8 5 of the last 6. Twice though they missed the playoffs all together. Martin Truex Jr. hopes he can get back to the Round of 8 at least this season.
- The driver to finish third in the Championship 4 has made it to at least the Round of 8 in each of the last 5 years with 3 of the 5 being in the Championship 4. That’s good news for Denny Hamlin who himself has made it to the final round in each of the last three years.
- Playoff points during the regular season matter – 3 of the top 4 in playoff points entering the 2017 season made the Championship 4. In 2018, it was the top 3 making it to the final round. For 2019, all four in the top four of playoff points accumulated entering the playoffs made it to the Championship 4 while 2020 saw 4 of the top five. Last year was 3 of the top 5.
- Ranks of Championship 4 drivers in playoff points entering the postseason:
- 2017: 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th
- 2018: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th
- 2019: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th
- 2020: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th
- 2021: 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th
- Three times since 2016 did the #1 seed entering the playoffs win the championship. It happened in odd years – 2017, 2019 and 2021. Still, all but one year did the top seed entering the playoffs make the Final round.
- The second place driver in playoff points made the final round in 3 of the 5 years too and all but one has at least made it to the Round of 8.
- The third place driver made it every time.
- The thing is, 4 of the 5 years someone outside the top 4 did get through to the Championship 4 but none lower than seventh.
- The 16th seed has been eliminated in the first round in 3 of the 5 years. They’ve never made it past the Round of 12.
- The 15th seed has made it out of the opening round every year….until last season.
- Parity – We’ve had this playoff format since 2014. In the seven years of this, we’ve seen seven different champions. By those accounts, that means Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson won’t win the title at Phoenix this November. Jimmie Johnson is the only other driver to win a title in this span but he’s since retired.
- Champion likely won’t have won most races during the season — 5 of the 8 champions in this era has won five times during the season that they were crowned. One of them won just three times and another 10 (last year). Only three times in eight years did a driver that won the most races during the course of a season actually win the title itself.
- Eventual champion has actually started each season off slow – It actually pays to have a slower start to a season for some reason. Just last year, Kyle Larson had one win in the first 14 races. The year prior, Chase Elliott had just one win through the first 22 races. He won the title. In 2018, Joey Logano had one win in the first 32 races but won the championship. Martin Truex Jr. had one trip to victory lane in the first 17 races of the 2017 campaign. He won the championship still. Jimmie Johnson in 2016 was 2-for-29 in 2016 and Harvick 1-for-30 in 2014. They both were champions in those seasons. No driver in this era has won the title but was also shut out in the first 26 races run either.