8 drivers. 3 races. 1 round. 4 of the 8 drivers will advance to the Phoenix Raceway with a shot at taking home this year’s championship. However, this year is unlike most others in the fact that not only do we have so much parity (19 different race winners), the points are as tight as they’ve ever been heading into the Round of 8.
With every driver facing an up-and-down season at some point this year, it has a lot of drivers jumbled up in the middle. Chase Elliott has a 31 point advantage on the cutline. However, Joey Logano is 2nd but only +11. Ross Chastain is +6 while 3 points separate Christopher Bell in 4th and Ryan Blaney in 6th. Denny Hamlin is only 5 points out while Chase Briscoe is just 9 points back in last among the 8 drivers left.
Which means the easiest path to get to the final round in Phoenix is to just win. The thing is, a non championship eligible driver has won a race in this round in 5 of the 8 years including each of the last 2 at that.
In 2014 and 2015, 2 of the 3 Round of 8 races were won by a non championship eligible driver. Last year, the final race was. With Kyle Larson winning the opening two races of the third round, it allowed for 3 wildcard spots for the taking into the Championship 4.
With 4 of the first 6 playoff races being won this season by non championship eligible drivers, you get the notion that the final spot or two into Phoenix could come down to the slimmest of margins.
Which is why I don’t think you necessarily have to win a race this round to get by. We already know that 1 spot definitely won’t, but it could be multiple of them for the 4th time in the last 6 years.
As a result of that and how close everyone is, plus how difficult it could be to pass on these tracks this round, how much do we see aggression take on a whole new level?
That was why so many drivers were trying to get through Charlotte last Sunday without any enemies. Why start something when payback could occur later?
We know Denny Hamlin has a list of drivers to payback and William Byron and Ross Chastain are on it. Ryan Blaney has a list too.
“I don’t know who ran me over, but put them on the list I guess,” Blaney said after the Bank of America ROVAL 400.
Chastain is likely on several drivers’ list. Chase Elliott, Hamlin and Christopher Bell have him as a marked man. Bell is on Daniel Suarez’ list. Do these drivers do anything over the next few days to try and smooth things over if they’re not already?
One driver who’s normally on a payback list of his peers was just happy to escape Charlotte without being on anyone’s list this time around.
“When you have desperate situations like that, people just send it, and it ends up to be a mess. I’m sure there are a lot of scorecards that everybody kept today, and I didn’t dump anybody, so that was great. No one’s mad at me. I feel good,” Joey Logano said.
With so few points separating these drivers and 1 bad race having the potential to ruin your season now, getting paid back at this point of the season could have drastic effects.