Round of 8 preview, 5 storylines and predictions

8 drivers now remain in the hunt for this year’s 2022 NASCAR Cup Series championship. With 3 more tracks this round (Las Vegas, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville) who can do enough to get by and plant their names into the Championship 4?


  • Experiences vs. Inexperience: 2 of the last 4 series champions are still alive. So is Denny Hamlin who has been to 3 straight Championship 4 rounds too. That’s almost half of the Round of 8 field. Does that experience overcome the inexperience?
    • Also, the ages of the drivers left? Denny Hamlin (41), Joey Logano (32), Ross Chastain (29), Ryan Blaney (28), Chase Briscoe (27), Christopher Bell (27), Chase Elliott (26) and William Byron (24). Only Hamlin is older than 32. The tide has shifted.
      • 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 and 2 of them are still alive – 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.
  • William Byron – At this time last week, he was below the cutline. He got his 25 points back and advanced by 11. Now that he’s in, Byron is a threat to making the Championship 4. 2 of the 3 tracks in this round, he won the last race at them.
  • Ryan Blaney Being Winless – He was the last driver into the postseason and the only one of the 16 drivers to enter this year’s playoffs winless on the season. As we head into the Round of 8, we’re 6 more races into 2022 (32 races total) and Blaney has still yet to win. How much longer can he keep this up or does it catch up to him this round?
  • Chase Elliott’s playoff points – Elliott won the regular season championship and took with him 15 additional playoff points as a result. That plus his wins (5) and stage wins (6) net him 46 playoff points sticking with him for the 3rd round. With that big of an advantage and knowing at least 1 spot into the final four will be on points, it almost solidifies Elliott as one of the 4 drivers fighting for the championship in Phoenix. 5 of the 8 years under this format saw the regular season champion march all the way to the Championship 4 including 4 of the last 5 years. In 2017, Martin Truex Jr. won the regular season title and didn’t win in the Round of 8 to get to the final round. Same for Kyle Busch in 2019. Kevin Harvick won in 2018 (Texas) and Kyle Larson won 2 of the 3 races in this round last year.
  • Toyota: They have 2 drivers still left coming to 2 of the 3 tracks this round that suit them. Denny Hamlin won the last playoff race in Vegas. Christopher Bell is coming off of a win last week. 6 times has a driver won the 6th playoff race as well as the championship including 2 straight years…
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 06: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, leads the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 06, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not And What They’ve Done On These Tracks

  • Chase Elliott – Prior to a runner-up in last year’s playoff race in Vegas, Elliott had just two career top fives on this track with his last three finishes being 26th, 22nd,13th and 9th respectively. He has five finishes of 22nd or worse there too and was only 29th and 11th at Kansas. For Homestead, he has 3 top 7’s in his last 5 starts there, but he’s winless overall and also at Darlington too. He was 5th and 36th this past year at Darlington and 21st the last time out at Homestead. Martinsville is his best shot. Elliott won the pole and dominated the first 2 stages back in the spring before a pit road penalty relegated him to a top 10 instead of a top 5. Elliott won the 2020 Fall race en route to a Championship 4 appearance here. He also has four top fives in his last 7 Martinsville starts, three of them being in the top two.
  • William Byron – This could be a great round for him. Among the 3 tracks, he’s won the last trip to 2 of them. The one he didn’t was in Vegas to where he finished seventh in the playoff race there in 2019 and restarted the Spring race in 2020 on the front row before contact cut his tire on the overtime restart. He was eighth last year in this very race too. Byron finished 5th in the spring and 16th and 6th at the pair of Kansas races this season. He’s the last winner at Homestead and was in the top 10 in 2020. At Darlington, a similar track, he had a car capable of winning the spring race and was in the top 10 in the Southern 500 too. He’s also the last winner at Martinsville too with Byron picked up where Elliott left off in the spring. He finished 2nd in both stages and led the final 212 laps for the win. Byron has 5 top eight’s in his last 6 Martinsville starts including a runner-up in the playoff race in 2019, fourth and fifth respectively last year and a win in the spring race.
  • Ross Chastain – He won an Xfinity race for Ganassi at Vegas and was 3rd this past spring. On top of that, Chastain finished 7th in both Kansas races this season as well. For Homestead, he’s never been particularly great there but that was with underfunded teams. He was 17th last year as his best Cup finish. He was 3rd however in the 2020 Xfinity Series race and 4th for Niece in 2019 in the Truck Series. With Chastain being quick at Darlington this season, he’s worth a risk. Then at Martinsville, he was 5th in the spring. The 3rd seed has made the Championship 4 every year since 2017.
  • Denny Hamlin – He won this Vegas race last year and was 4th and 2nd respectively in the 2 Kansas races at that. Hamlin has 3 top 4 finishes in his last 4 Vegas starts. For Homestead, he swept both stages and the win in 2020 and was 11th last year. Hamlin also had a top 5 car in both Darlington races earlier this season too. Martinsville ironically enough is going to be his worst track this round. 4 of his last 5 Martinsville finishes have seen him come home 11th or worse (28th in the spring). 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 Hamlin.
  • Christopher Bell – He’s had a top 5 in 4 of the 6 playoff races, coming into the round on the heels of a win and has been stout at these tracks. In Vegas he was 10th this past spring, 7th in this race last year and 5th/3rd in the 2 Kansas races this season as well. For Homestead, he was in the top 10 lasts year and has a pair of top 6’s in his 2 Darlington starts. Martinsville isn’t a strong suit (20th in spring) but he has 4 top 10’s in his last 5 short track starts on the season.
  • Ryan Blaney – He has eight Top-7 finishes in his last 11 starts in Vegas. He was 12th and 9th respectively in Kansas this year. For Homestead, Blaney finished third in 2021 and has been good at the South Florida race track overall in both the Xfinity and Truck Series races too. Then, it’s to Martinsville to where he was 4th in the spring race while also coming home runner-up in both races in 2020. On top of that, Blaney was fourth and fifth respectively there in 2019. Blaney, has 6 top fives in his last 9 tries on the Virginia paperclip overall. While he was 11th in both races last year, he did sweep both stages in the spring race.
  • Joey Logano – He has 10 Top-10 finishes in his last 13 Vegas starts but with only being 14th here in the spring and 17th in both races at Kansas this year makes me wary. Can he rebound at Homestead to where he was 27th and 25th the last two years? Logano, had five straight top six finishes prior and won at Darlington this past May though. Martinsville may be his time to shine. Logano has pair of top five finishes came at Martinsville in 2020 and again this past spring (2nd) to go along with 8 top 10’s in his last 9 tries. The 2nd seed has made the Championship 4 in 3 of the last 4 years and the Round of 8 every year still too.
  • Chase Briscoe – Vegas will be tough. So will Homestead. He’s a rookie in the Cup Series there and finished outside the top 20 in both Darlington races run this season too. Then it’s to Martinsville to where he finished 9th in April. He had 0 top 10’s in 14 straight races before a top 10 in all 3 races in the Round of 12.

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – NOVEMBER 07: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 07, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)


  • 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.
  • 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. 2020 saw 4 of the top five. Last year it was 4 of the top 7.
  • 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
    • 2022: Here’s Who’s Left: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 10th, 12th
  • No one past the 7 seed entering the playoffs has ever made the final round. Just 2 drivers remain (Bell No. 10 and Briscoe No. 12)
  • 3 times since 2016 did the #1 seed entering the playoffs win the championship. It happened in odd numbers years only – 2017, 2019 and 2021.
  • The 3rd seed has made the Championship 4 every year.
  • The regular season champion has made it to the final round in 4 of the last 5 years and the Round of 8 every year.
  • Parity – We’ve had this playoff format since 2014. In the 8 years of this, we’ve seen 7 different champions. By those accounts, that means Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larosn 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. 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. Last year Larson had 1 win in the 1st 14 races. In 2020, 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.
  • In each of the last 6 years we’ve had teammates in the Championship 4
    • 2016: JGR (Busch, Truex Jr.)
    • 2017: JGR (Busch, Truex Jr.)
    • 2018: JGR (Busch, Truex Jr.)
    • 2019: JGR (Hamlin, Busch, Truex Jr.)
    • 2020: Penske (Keselowski, Logano)
    • 2021: JGR (Hamlin, Truex Jr.), HMS (Larson, Elliott)
    • This year, we have HMS (Elliott, Byron), Penske (Logano, Blaney), JGR (Hamlin, Bell) left.
    • JGR has had a driver in the Championship 4 every year.
    • Penske hasn’t had a driver in the final round in 2 of the last 3 years
Crew members push the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, driven by Joey Logano on the grid during qualifying for the Ruoff Mortgage 500. Logan Riely | Getty Images

Championship 4 Picks

I think Denny Hamlin wins Vegas, Joey Logano is victorious in Homestead, Chase Elliott at Homestead and Ross Chastain squeaks by on points making it a Team Penske (22) vs. Hendrick Motorsports (9) vs. Joe Gibbs Racing (11) vs. Trackhouse Racing (1) fight for the championship. It keeps all trends going with the 3 seed in the finals (Chastain), the No. 3 seed in the previous playoffs in it (Hamlin), Logano’s every other year streak and Elliott’s regular season champion streak going.

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