The NASCAR regular season is over. Ten weeks from now, the Cup Series will crown a winner. Over that span, the field of 16 playoff drivers will be narrowed down to just 4 eligible contestants. On November 8 at Phoenix Raceway, the first of those 4 to cross the finish line will be crowned as the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion.
After 3 races, 4 drivers out of the 16 will be eliminated. After the next 3 races, 4 more of the remaining 12 drivers will be cut. Finally, the field of 8 will be reduced to just 4 before the finale in Phoenix.
Of this year’s playoff drivers, there are 2 clear favorites to make the final round: Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.
Harvick not only won 7 races this season for Stewart-Hass racing in the No. 4 Ford Mustang, but he won the regular season championship as well. Harvick was also the 2014 Cup Series champion, so he’s no stranger to playoff racing.
Denny Hamlin came in 2nd in this year’s regular season with six race wins in the No. 11 Toyota Supra for Joe Gibbs Racing.
While I’m personally a fan of different drivers in each of NASCAR’s three major vehicles — Ford, Toyota and Chevy — I’m projecting that Ford drivers will dominate the majority of these playoff races. If you look at the season splits, it’s easy to see why.
Of 26 series races this year, Ford won 14, Toyota 7 and Chevy took home 5. There were 11 different drivers that made it to the winner’s circle, 5 for Ford, 4 for Chevy and 2 for Toyota. Ford drivers also make up half of the playoff field. Chevy and Toyota have 5 and 3 drivers, respectively.
With a number of veteran drivers on their team, the key to Ford’s continued success has been teamwork. They line up and push well on restarts and stay in close contention all the way to the end of most races.
If you watched the regular season finale at Daytona last weekend, you know what I mean. Ford’s Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer were right there with a chance before the final big crash occurred.
The Chevy team has a number of young and exciting drivers. Alex Bowman in the No. 88, Austin Dillon in the No. 3 and William Byron in the No. 24 all brought those iconic numbers back to victory lane this year. Cup Series rookie Cole Custer won at the notoriously difficult Kentucky Speedway. Chase Elliot starts the playoffs in 5th place. With a few good performances, any one of them couch clinch a spot in the final round.
Still, I just don’t think a Chevy championship is in the cards. 2020 has shown us that anything can happen, but I’m not buying the hype.
Toyota has less eligible drivers than anyone else in the playoffs but those three are each bad, bad men. Hamlin, as we discussed, finished second in the regular season. Martin Truex Jr. was the 2017 champion and Kyle Busch is the defending Cup Series champ (he also won in 2015).
It hasn’t been Kyle Busch’s year by any means. This is his first season without a win since 2005, but I can’t reasonably count him out. If he doesn’t make it into at least the round of 8, it will because a couple of other morons on the track took him out in major wrecks.
Matt Dibenedetto, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and Cole Custer will be eliminated in the round of 16. Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch will get stage wins and amass enough points to move on. I’d look for Harvick and Hamlin to both add to their win total during this round.
Kyle Busch will win another stage or 2 in the round of 12. The winners will keep winning, and the gap between the drivers at the top and the middle will continue to get wider.
As the playoffs reach the halfway point, the race at Talladega Superspeedway on October 4 will be a bracket buster. Ryan Blaney won earlier this year, but a veteran is much more likely to take that race. To get the field down to 8 drivers, Bowman, Bowyer, Byron and Dillon will all be eliminated.
The round of 8 will go to the Kansas Speedway, then the Texas Motor Speedway before finally making its way to Martinsville to finalize the championship field. I’m a big Martin Truex Jr. fan and he seems to be a fan of short track racing. I’d take him for race #9. However, depending on who else has won so far in the playoffs and where the standings sit, that might not be enough to secure a seat in the finals.
Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are sitting in third and fourth right now and that position is theirs to lose. If they race well early in the playoffs, they’ll clinch spots in the finals. If they don’t, the door will be open for Blaney, Truex or Elliot to compete for the championship.
When the green flag waves at Phoenix Speedway on November 8, I believe that Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. will be competing for the Cup.
Even though I think Hamlin is hungry, the California King has just been too damn good all season. Kevin “The Closer” Harvick is going to cross the finish line first and win the 2020 Cup Series championship.
As Darrell Waltrip famously said,“Boogity, boogity, boogity, let’s go racing boys!”