NASCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for the 2022 Cup Series playoffs

Will Drama Ensue?

We saw plenty of drama over the years during the final 10 race stretch of the NASCAR Cup Series season. But I have a feeling we’re about to see some fireworks over the final 10 weeks this year too. With how close the standings are and as much parity that we’ve seen, buckle up. There’s going to be some hurt feelings and I sense some melee’s may break out as a result.

Between Kevin Harvick vs. Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman vs. Denny Hamlin last year and even Elliott already vs. Larson this year and Ross Chastain and all he’s had this year as well, I think those will be tame in nature compared to what we’re about to witness this year.

The slimmest of margins are going to advance you and with Bristol, the Charlotte ROVAL and Martinsville being the cut races, tempers are going to flare.


BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – SEPTEMBER 18: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Hooters Chevrolet,(L) and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Subway Delivery Ford, have a heated conversation after an incident late in the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 18, 2021 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Is Round of 12 Or Round of 8 The Tougher Round To Advance From?

The 2nd round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs may be the most difficult 3 week stretch of the season. Texas, Talladega and the Charlotte ROVAL. The final 2 races are wildcards where anything can happen. Anything will too.

With the postseason going from 12 drivers to 8 in this round, one could say this is the toughest round to compete in because a lot of it is time out of your control.

However, the Round of 8 could be seen as just as difficult. While the tracks are more geared towards the drivers, the intensity level also picks up. The 8 drivers left standings are there for a reason and to beat at least 4 of them, it’s going to take an all our war.

Pressure rises. Tension mounts. It’s 3 weeks of hell to be one of the 4 lucky ones vying for a championship a week later. The final race is a short track to where you have to have your elbows out. Even if you’re not an aggressive driver, if you’re part of the Round of 8 still, you better make yourself one.

So which is tougher?


Can Hendrick Motorsports 3-Peat?

Chase Elliott gave Rick Hendrick a championship in 2020. Kyle Larson did the same in 2021. Will either of them or even Alex Bowman or William Byron do the same in 2022 for a 3-peat?

I don’t know if this year can top last year but stopping short of a 3rd straight championship would leave a sour taste in their mouths.

The 2021 season was extra special with what the Hendrick Motorsports organization has been able accomplish. They earned 17 NASCAR Cup Series wins in 2021; Hendrick Motorsports’ second-most in a single season and third-most by any team in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972-Present). 2021 was the organization’s 36th straight season with a victory; longest-ever streak by a team in the series and its 37th season overall with a win; the most-ever by a team in the series. Plus, Hendrick Motorsports swept first and second in seven races last season; tied for the second-most all-time and most by a team in NASCAR’s Modern Era. They also became one of two teams in Cup Series history to finish 1-2 in four straight races (between Dover and Sonoma). And to top all of that, the organization became the all-time wins leader in the NASCAR Cup Series with 279 total Cup wins – lead all other teams by 11 victories. Kyle Larson’s win in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway broke the all-time record previously held by Petty Enterprises (268 wins).

The Hendrick Motorsport’s foursome of Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman also became the only team in NASCAR’s Modern Era to win six straight races (between Dover and Pocono) and the only team in Cup history to have all four Cup cars entered in a race sweep the top-four finishes positions (Dover). They also became the first team in history with four winners under age 30 in a single season.

They led the fifth-most by any team in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972)-Present); but set a new Hendrick Motorsports team record that stood for 12 years (4,017 in 2009). Junior Johnson and Associates holds the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era organization record for the most laps led in a single season with 4,296.

Hendrick Motorsports 2021 dominance doesn’t end there, they also posted 33 finishes inside the top two; most in the Modern Era (since 1972), scored 83 top-10 finishes; the team’s second-most (84 in 2007, 82 in 2012), posted 55 top-five finishes; the team’s second-most (57 in 2007) and won 28 stages; had only won 33 prior to 2021.

Since the inception of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in 2004, the 2021 is the first time Hendrick Motorsports has placed two drivers in the Championship 4 Round (Elliott, Larson). Impressively, Hendrick Motorsports has won at least one Playoff race in each of the 17 Playoff seasons (since 2004) for a combined 53 postseason wins, most all-time.

Does this continue over with a new car this time around?

They have 4 shots over 4 rounds…


HAMPTON, GEORGIA – JULY 10: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 10, 2022 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Did Chase Elliott Peak Too Early

We’ve seen this over the years across all forms of sports. You don’t want to peak too early. Did Chase Elliott do so this season? Elliott had a span of 5 straight top 2 finishes recently. If you count the races before too, he had 11 top 10 finishes in a 14 race span.

Since?

16th, 11th, 5th, 4th and 29th respectively.

Now you have to wonder if his streak that he was on earlier was too soon. Did he peak too early?

4 of the 5 regular season champions made it all the way to the Championship 4 on that given season so Elliott at least has that trend going for him, but does he have enough for the 10 week grind to win a 2nd championship in the last 3 years?


HAMPTON, GEORGIA – MARCH 20: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 20, 2022 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Is This Year’s Championship The Most Rewarding?

With a new car, everyone is on a level playing field. The parity that we witnessed during the 26 race regular season proved that. So, does winning this year’s championship make it all the more memorable?

I mean one can say that it’s more challenging to win a title this season compared to last. The points are closer heading into the playoffs than ever before and with this format, anyone of the 16 drivers can win the title.

That’s why a Phoenix triumph may feel more rewarding than any of the past. Plus, this isn’t your grandpa or dads NASCAR anymore. These titles are harder to win since it’s all about winning the final race of the season. You aren’t points racing.

In a season like this, especially one with a new car, wouldn’t this championship go to the top of list of accomplishments among whomever does win?

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