The last race of the regular season would prove to be the dog fight we expected, with the final three playoff spots being filled. Clint Bowyer, William Byron, and Matt DiBenedetto would all skate through, as both Jimmie Johnson and Erik Jones would be caught up in separate multi-car wrecks.
As Dale Money and Brandon Braasch dig into the first round of the Cup Series Playoffs, it seems like a two-horse race between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin. Which is fair given how dominant they have been over the field much of the season. However, there are certain drivers that could give them a run for their money. First off theirs Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, each of whom will be desperate to get out of their individual ruts. Then we have Martin Truex Jr., who has begun to pour it on in the last number of weeks. Also don’t forget Brad Keselowski, who has been the model of consistency and should be a tough out. It should all make for an exciting tournament.
Kevin Harvick (2/1) Brandon
Harvick is the favorite to win the championship and rightfully so. He has won seven races so far this season and was the overall leader in points. He will be starting each round with an extra 57 points because of his points and wins. If he does make it to the final four, he will be very tough to beat at Phoenix.
Harvick has a great chance to win the championship this season. With him starting out with 57 points in each round it will take a couple of very bad races for him to be knocked out of any of the rounds. He will very likely be in the championship four and contend for the Championship at Phoenix. If he does end up in the championship four, he will be tough to beat at Phoenix. Harvick has nine wins at that track and that sets him up perfectly for a strong championship run.
Denny Hamlin (3/1) Dale
Hamlin enters the playoffs, valued as the second-highest favorite next to Harvick. However, this does feel much more like a pick’em type of scenario when you consider how even both drivers have proven to be over the majority of the season. As the season rolled along, both drivers continued to swap victories back and forth. The tug-of-war did not let up over the two race double-header at Dover just a couple of weeks ago. However, Hamlin would finish just one win shy of the No. 4 driver, having racked up a half-dozen victories.
Having accumulated a grand total of 47 bonus points over the season, Hamlin should have enough of a cushion in which to ease himself into the final eight. With the final four-race having been moved to Phoenix instead of Homestead-Miami, Hamlin should be plenty excited if he can make it in. It was there last November that Hamlin sniped both a win and finals appearance. Keep in mind that Hamlin had not been back to the finale since 2014. So while it’s certainly never a given getting into the final four round, he does have some recent success here at the desert in which to hang his hat on.
Martin Truex Jr (7/1) Dale
Truex Jr. comes into the playoffs as arguably the hottest driver outside of the main two players. Consider that over the course of the previous eight races, Truex Jr. has finished outside the top three on only one occasion. Just two weeks ago in fact, Truex secured a pair of runner-up results at Dover. If he can manage to keep up this sort of pace, it’s only going to be a matter of time until he finally cashes in with a victory. However, due to the lack of wins, he does not come into the playoffs with a lot of security. An early win could go along way to pushing him through the first couple of rounds. If Truex can get into the round of eight, he’ll get Martinsville, a track in which he has won back to back times.
Brad Keselowski (8/1) Brandon
Keselowski is coming into the playoffs with three wins on the season. He was able to win at Bristol, Charlotte, and then in dominating fashion at New Hampshire. Keselowski will be starting each round of the playoffs with a good cushion of 29 points. He was very consistent this year and finished 19 out of the 26 regular season races in the top ten. It has been eight years since Brad won his last championship. 2020 could be the year he adds another one to his resume.
Brad has been arguably the best driver this season outside of Harvick and Denny Hamlin. He comes in with 8/1 odds to win the championship. Brad is very good at a lot of the tracks in the playoffs. However, he has yet to win a Phoenix. Since this new playoff format started no driver has won the championship without winning the championship race. It will be a bit of an uphill battle for Keselowski but if he’s able to make the championship four he will definitely not be going down without a fight.
Chase Elliott (15/2) Brandon
Elliott was able to pick up a couple wins in the regular season to make his way into the playoffs. He won the Thursday night race at Charlotte as well as the inaugural race at the Daytona road course. He starts the playoffs with 20 points and only 15 points above the cutoff line. Elliot is a driver that could race his way into the final four at Phoenix and have a shot at the championship.
Elliott has the talent to beat out the top guys for the championship. He has run very well at times this year. He also has had some bad races. The first two rounds of the playoffs offer some tracks that Elliott runs very well at. Bristol ends the first round and Elliot has run very well their this year and even won the All-Star race in May. The second round has Talladega and the Roval. Those two tracks Elliott has won in the past. He could make some noise in the playoffs and is a contender to make it to the championship four.
Joey Logano (12/1) Dale
While Logano hasn’t shown a lot of dominance since the return to real-life racing, do not make the mistake of sleeping on the No. 22 driver once we get into the tournament. Logano is very effective in surviving early playoff elimination rounds. Consider that since 2014, he has qualified for the championship round on three occasions and is just two years removed from having won his first-ever title. If Logano can qualify for the round of eight, hell get visits to Texas and Martinsville. Keep in mind that he has an average finish of 6.14 at Texas, which ranks as his third-best average among current playoff tracks. After a rough finish to another wise strong Daytona performance last Sunday, he will look for a nice rebound to kick off the debut of the playoffs.
Kyle Busch (12/1) Dale
Normally you would automatically count Busch in among the favorites to make the championship four, however, 2020 has been a very strange year in more ways than one. Having just come off a title win the year prior, it was indeed surprising to see Busch struggle the way he has in 2020. We continued to wait on him to eventually flip that switch and get his first win of 2020, however it would never come to fruition. This is the first time in Busch’s cup career, in which he would not earn himself a regular-season victory. So with that in mind, it was certainly significant.
Busch will head into the round of 16 with just three playoff points, so he cannot afford any serious mishaps in the early going. As of now, he is looked at more like a dark horse than a potential favorite. Unless Busch can shake this monkey off his back, it’s going to be hard to see him go any deeper than the round of eight. Keep in mind that his average finish has dipped drastically in the past two seasons, from 8.9 to 15.2.
Ryan Blaney (14/1) Brandon
Blaney made his way into the playoffs officially by winning at Talladega. As they came to the line he was able to squeak out the victory by .007 seconds over Ryan Newman. Blaney would have been in the playoffs without the win because of how many points he had. However, without the win, you are not locked in so once he got his win he was able to focus on the races more and not points.
If you are looking to place a bet on a guy that doesn’t have the best odds to win the championship but has a legitimate shot Blaney is your guy. He only has one race win on the year but easily could have a couple more if cautions didn’t fall at the worst times. His 14/1 odds are very intriguing. He should be able to make it out of the first round and the second round similarly to Elliott is perfect for him. He has won twice at Talladega and once at the Roval in his career. Both of which are in round two. If he does in fact makes it to the Championship four he doesn’t have a win at Phoenix. Although in three of the last four races, he has finished in third place. He is a very good dark horse to win the championship.
Kurt Busch (33/1) Brandon
Similarly to Bowyer Busch raced his way into the playoffs on points. He was very solid all season long. Busch had 14 top tens and his average finish was 13.4. He didn’t win any races though and was not able to win any stages to get stage points. The 2004 champion will have a tough hill to conquer if he’s going to add to his championship collection.
Bowyer and Busch had similar seasons. They both will be battling it out on the cutoff line to make the round of 12. If Busch can put together three solid finishes that should be enough to make it into the next round. However, it’s not very likely that he wins enough to make it any further than the round of 12. He had a solid season but avoid any bets on Busch to win the championship
Aric Almirola (33/1) Dale
Statistically, this has been arguably Almirola’s best regular season, having broken personal bests in top fives, laps led, and average finish. Almirola can certainly make the round of eight, but is he a championship four sleeper? It was only two seasons ago that he finished fifth in the playoff standings, so it would not be overly surprising to see him get over the hump. Almirola has shown some great consistency at times this season. Consider that he had a string of five straight top-five results.
Alex Bowman (40/1) Dale
Although Bowman would finish out the regular schedule with a pair of top-seven finishes, those previous five attempts were a real struggle. Consider that during the five-race stretch, he racked up three results outside the top 20 and would finish inside the top 15 once. Bowman starts the playoffs with nine playoff points, which should help him get through the round of 16. However, don’t expect him to get any further than that, as the consistency just isn’t there.
William Byron (40/1) Brandon
Byron was able to make it into the playoffs by winning the last race in the regular season at Daytona last weekend. He was just a few points ahead of the cutoff line before the race. Byron and his teammate Jimmie Johnson were both on the cutoff line along with Dibenedetto. They battled each other all day. A solid top ten finish would have been good enough for Byron. That didn’t stop Byron from going out, winning the race, and picking up some playoff points along the way.
Byron is one of the drivers that have a huge mountain to climb if they want to go deep into the playoffs. Byron’s best shot would be to put some solid finishes together and make it out of the first round. If he does that then the second round with Talladega in it is perfect for him. Talladega is such a wild card race that if he was able to win it would put him into the third round. However, the third round is about Byron’s peak unless he is able to get super hot and string together some wins and top-five finishes later into the playoffs.
Matt DiBenedetto (50/1) Dale
DiBenedetto makes his debut into the round of 16, as he would manage to survive Daytona, beating out both Johnson and Jones for one of the last remaining spots. DiBenedetto has run a relatively serviceable season, for the most part, posted a pair of top-fives at both Loudon and Michigan. In fact, this was his best regular season in terms of average finish. DiBenedetto is a driver that I could see sneaking through the first round and possibly give a few drivers a run for their money in the round of 12 before ultimately flaming out.
Clint Bowyer (50/1) Brandon
Bowyer made the playoffs by being consistent throughout the season and getting in on points. Bowyer had seven top-ten finishes in 26 races in the regular season. His average finish was 14.7, so he didn’t have a lot of great races. Although, he didn’t really have a lot of bad races. Bowyer did win a couple of stages throughout the season so he will begin the playoffs with four playoff points.
Bowyer might be able to use his consistent finishes to make it through a couple of rounds. However, without winning races it’s going to make it very tough to make it to the championship four. It will be even tougher to win the championship especially considering no driver has ever won the championship without winning the championship race. Bowyer’s odds are high for a reason and is not a great bet.
Austin Dillon (66/1) Dale
Given the sole reason, Dillon qualified for the playoffs was through his victory at Texas back in July. It’s not overly surprising that the Sportsbooks have put such low expectations on Dillon’s title hopes. To be fair though, he has had two strong runs since that win, having picked up a top nine two races ago at Dover. However, his overall body of work has been rather spotty. Those five extra points could be the difference in whether he survives the round of 16 or not. He is slated to start 12th in the first race at Darlington this Sunday.
Cole Custer (66/1) Brandon
Custer was able to make his way into the playoffs in dramatic fashion. The rookie was able to take his car four-wide at Kentucky and steal the victory. Custer was the biggest underdog to win a race this season. Since he got that win he will start the round with five playoff points.
The rookie has a lot to look forward to going into the playoffs and onto next season. However, with an average finish of only 19.9, it will take better finishes than that to be able to knock out any of the drivers on the cut line. It is very unlikely that Custer is able to advance past the first round let alone win the championship. It was a good rookie season and being in the playoffs will be a good experience for Custer but don’t expect him in the Championship four at Phoenix.
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