The 2nd round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are upon us. 12 drivers, 3 races, 8 spots available to advance onto next round. So who takes them?
What To Watch For
- Ryan Blaney – He’s winless in 29 points paying races this season but won the All-Star race at Texas back in May and hoping to do what Kyle Larson did last season – sweep both events. Can he still make it to the 3rd round with a win if he doesn’t? He will be without his crew chief all round.
- Non playoff drivers – They swept the first round and with 2 wildcard events this round and some drivers that are no longer in the playoffs but thrive at Texas upcoming, there’s reason to think that as we hit the end of this round, we could have upwards of 4-5 or even all 6 races won by a non playoff driver.
- Chase Elliott – Can he avoid another down round? Elliott had just 1 top 10 finish in the opening round but his playoff points got him by. Can he avoid another letdown this round? He’s won 2 of the last 3 ROVAL races but Texas and Talladega aren’t strongsuits for him which is why he could be in a precarious position entering the cut off race.
- New comers- 2 of the 12 drivers left (Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric) are rookies. 2 more are with Trackhouse Racing (Daniel Suarez, Ross Chastain). With 4 drivers not making it to the next round, how many will come from these 4?
- New era – Many of us like to think age is just a number, but is it truly that way? When digging through the stats on the NASCAR Cup Series champions, one three-year age window stands out above the rest when it comes to a driver’s age at the time of their first title – 28-30 years old. Of the 35 different series champions 10 of them (the most in a three-year span at 28.5%) have earned their first NASCAR Cup Series title between the ages of 28 and 30; including four active champions Joey Logano (28), Brad Keselowski (28), Kyle Larson (29) and Kyle Busch (30).
- Looking at this year’s playoff drivers, 10 of the 16 drivers were under the age of 30. However, 3 drivers are currently in the window of 28 to 30 years old and looking for their first NASCAR Cup Series title – Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney (28), Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain (29) and Daniel Suárez (30). Plus, keep in mind, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe (also a winner this season) are both 27 years old and will be turning 28 at the end of this year in December.
- All those drivers mentioned are still left in the playoffs.
- Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. won the first 4 championships in this new era. However, the tide has now shifted. Johnson is retired, Truex didn’t even make the playoffs and Harvick as well as Busch were eliminated in the first round of this year’s playoffs. The new era is here. Among the 12 drivers left, 10 of them are 30 or younger. The drivers and their ages left? Denny Hamlin (41), Joey Logano (32), Kyle Larson (30), Daniel Suarez (30), Ross Chastain (29), Alex Bowman (29), Ryan Blaney (28), Chase Briscoe (27), Christopher Bell (27), Chase Elliott (26), Austin Cindric (24) and William Byron (24). Only Hamlin is older than 32. Logano won the 2018 championship. He’s still here. Busch won 2019 before Elliott and Larson won the last 2. 2 of those 3 are still here. The tide has shifted.
Who’s Hot/Who’s Not And What They’ve Done On These Tracks
- Christopher Bell – 3 top 5’s in as many playoff races. Was 3rd in the last 2 Texas races, but was 3rd, 27th, 18th, 12th and 8th on road courses and 34th, 23rd, 22nd, 19th and 36th on superspeedways.
- Denny Hamlin – 3 top 10’s in the playoffs, 2 of which in the top 5. However, 5 of his last 9 finishes at Texas were 21st or worse. He’s always a threat on superspeedway’s but his finishes on them this year are 37th, 29th, 18th, 25th and 25th and on road courses, he was only 18th, 31st, 17th, 14th and 20th. Could be a tough round.
- William Byron – 3 straight top 10’s, but 0-for-6 top 5’s at Texas, 15th in Dega this spring (1 finish better than 15th, a win at Atlanta, in 6 superspeedway starts this year, 1 top 10 on road courses this season too).
- Alex Bowman – 2 top 10’s in the last 3 races on the season, 5th in 2 of his last 3 Texas starts, 9th in Talladega this past spring (24th, 10th, 9th, 32nd, 14th on superspeedway’s this year), 4 straight top 10’s on the ROVAL but only 1 top 10 on road courses this season.
- Kyle Larson – 3 top 8’s last 5 races on the season. Won Texas last year, 4th in Talladega this spring but just 2 career top 5’s on superspeedways, 0 wins), won the last road course at Watkins Glen and defending ROVAL winner.
- Joey Logano – 3 of his last 4 finishes are 12th or worse. At Texas, he does have 9 top 10’s in his last 11 tries. He was 32nd in Talladega this spring with finishes of 21st, 9th, 32nd, 26th and 12th on superspeedways this season to go along with being 31st, 17th, 27th, 6th and 3rd on road courses this year. He has had a top 10 in every ROVAL start though too.
- Ross Chastain – 2 straight top 10’s on the season but no top 5’s in the last 10. Just 1 top 10 in the last 4 starts on intermediate tracks this year, did win Talladega this spring with 3 top 2’s in his last 4 superspeedway starts and should have 4 top 7’s in 5 road courses this year too. The thing is, only 4 times in the last 38 years did a driver sweep Talladega so the odds are long for Chastain to be the 5th.
- Ryan Blaney – 1 top 5 in his last 9. 6 top 8’s in his last 8 at Texas and also won the All-Star race this past spring. Has 2 top 5’s on superspeedway’s this year and is considered one of the top racers on these tracks lately. No top 5’s on road courses this year (6th, 6th, 11th, 26th, 24th but 1st, 8th, 5th and 9th in 4 ROVAL tries too.
- Chase Elliott – Just 1 top 10 in his last 4 starts on the season, no top 5’s in his last 9 at Texas, was 7th at Talladega back in April (4 top 10’s in 5 superspeedway starts this season), won 2 of the last 3 on the ROVAL and could have won each of the last 3 road course races this season too.
- Austin Cindric – 16th, 12th, 20th in the playoffs. 1 top 10 in 9 intermediate track starts in 2022, does have 3 top 3’s in 5 superspeedway races this season and 8th, 5th, 7th, 2nd and 13th on road courses too.
- Daniel Suarez – 6 of his last 8 finishes on the season are 18th or worse. He has 1 top 15 in the last 6 intermediate starts. Was 31st in Talladega as well as 18th and 24th in the 2 Daytona starts. Road courses are his strong suit with 3 top 5’s in his last 5 including a win at Sonoma.
- Chase Briscoe – 0 top 10’s in his last 15 starts on the season. 2 top 15’s on intermediate tracks this year. Was 37th in Talladega, 3rd and 31st in the 2 Daytona starts, 15th and 16th in Atlanta and no top 10’s on road courses this year with a best result of 13th.
Texas: I just get the feeling Christopher Bell wins as he’s had 6 top 5 finishes in the last 10 races run on the season including being the only driver in the playoffs to have a top 5 in all 3 playoff races thus far. He finished 3rd in his last 2 Texas starts.
Talladega: Austin Cindric – He’s had 3 top 3 finishes in 5 superspeeway starts and in a wild season, why not see a rookie advance to the Round of 8.
Charlotte ROVAL: Just seems like a Chase Elliott type of race. He’s won 2 of the last 3 races there and was 2nd in Road America, lined up on the front row on the 2nd to last restart at Indy and did so again on the final restart at Watkins Glen.
5 wildcard spots: Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney
Eliminated: Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman