NASCAR Cup Series Chase Heats Up

Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch contend for NASCAR Cup Series
Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch at Homestead–Miami Speedway in 2019. All are contending in the NASCAR Cup Series, PHOTO CREDIT: Zach Catanzareti Photo//Flickr

There are just 4 races remaining before the NASCAR Cup Series crowns a champion. With only 8 drivers left vying for the title, my predictions are still looking pretty good

At the start of the playoffs, I said veteran driver Kevin Harvick would be first to cross the line at Phoenix on November 8, and would win his 2nd Cup Series Championship. Harvick, the 2020 regular season champion, leads the playoff standings. He has also won 2 of the last 6 races. 

In Harvick’s 1st win of the playoffs, he was able to show off why he’s earned his nickname: The Closer. In the final laps of the Southern 500, Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliot were racing each other hard for the lead. Harvick was behind a few seconds in 3rd. With 13 laps remaining, Truex Jr. and Elliot drove each other into the wall, allowing Harvick to pass and hold on for the win.

Harvick’s 2nd win of the playoffs wasn’t as easy; Kyle Busch was charging hard and right on Harvick’s tail for the final laps of the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol. Harvick still somehow managed to hold on for the win. 

2nd place and 3rd place drivers Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski have also managed to win 1 race so far in these playoffs. Road course aficionado Elliot earned himself a spot in the round of 8 with a win at the Charlotte Roval last weekend. Elliot’s been on a run, his Charlotte victory was his 4th straight road course win. Kurt Busch also has 1 win.

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Out of the original field of 16 playoff drivers, I correctly predicted 6 of the 8 that would make it this far. My 2 missteps were picking Ryan Blaney over Alex Bowman, and picking Kyle Busch over his brother, Kurt.

Kurt Busch, a Chevy driver, earned his spot in this round after a win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the first race of the round of 12. Busch had never won at Vegas before, which led to an emotional post-race interview. He and brother Kyle are originally from the Las Vegas area.

I had picked Ford’s Blaney over Chevy driver Bowman because of Ford’s dominance throughout the season. Looking back, I should have attributed that dominance more so to Harvick than the rest of the Ford roster. Blaney has also become a fan favorite throughout the year.

A quick note about Bubba Wallace before I return to Alex Bowman – Wallace will be leaving Richard Petty Motorsports after this year. Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan announced that they’d be starting a new NASCAR Cup Series racing team next year. The racing team will feature one car, and one driver: Bubba Wallace. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m beyond excited to see how the partnership pans out. 

Back to Bowman, the 27-year-old has been carrying a lot of hype all season. He’s spent most of his career in the Hendricks Motorsports No. 88, the car previously driven by none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr. When Jimmie Johnson steps away from NASCAR next year to try his hand at Indy Car, Bowman will take over the 7-time champion’s No. 48.

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The move shows a huge vote of confidence from the Hendricks’ crew towards a young driver who has been constantly improving throughout his first 5 years in the Cup Series. Hendricks plans to announce Bowman’s replacement with the No. 88 team in the coming weeks. 

The remaining playoff drivers will race at Kansas Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway before the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 8. 

Harvick is a lock to make the finals thanks to his 2 early playoff wins. Hamlin is another shoe-in due to his regular season success. From there, the field gets much tighter. Keselowski and Elliot are in good shape because of their playoff wins. But, you can never count out a veteran like Truex Jr. 

Kurt Busch could be another playoff bracket spoiler after his win at Las Vegas. This season will be his best chance yet to win a Cup Series Championship. 

I had originally projected Harvick, Hamlin, Joey Logano and Truex Jr. as this year’s final 4. But, Logano hasn’t impressed me over the past 6 races.  The safe prediction would be to swap Logano out for Keselowski at this point. You could maybe even toss Truex Jr. out in favor of Elliot. 

However, over these next 3 races we could see a real shake-up and I wouldn’t mind an all-veteran final. Let’s see Harvick take Kansas, Kurt Busch take Texas, and Truex Jr. take Martinsville for a real final shootout come November 8. 

Regardless, I’m still taking Harvick in the championship. Tune in as the California King goes for Cup No. 2 on November 8. 

Writer, filmmaker, long-suffering New York Jets fan. Yes, I was watching when the butt-fumble happened. No, I don’t want to talk about it. Big chicken salad sandwiches guy– come to think of it, big all kinds of sandwiches guy. Reporting on the intersection of politics and sports, and international baseball leagues. Journalism master’s from the University of Oregon (Sco’ Ducks), undergrad at Binghamton University. Learned critical thinking by reading the racing form, won my first ever bet at the age of 7 on a 36-1 wire-to-wire winner. Post-pandemic you can catch me at the fronton throwing bread down on jai alai.

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