That special time of the year when 16 drivers get to compete in a four round ten race playoff spectacular to crown a new Cup Series champion. It is also the time of the year that seperates the contenders from the pretenders, which is always interesting to see after 26 weeks of regular season racing.
Who has the mettle and who is all hype? While anything can happen in the final ten races of the 2018, there are certain indicators that make some candidates stronger then others. In fact, if you look at this year’s playoff field you will see a handful of pretenders and not a lot of contenders that can come away with the sports biggest trophy.
6 Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney made it all the way to the third round of the playoffs last season and while he was eliminated by only a few points, it might be closest he gets in quite a while. In fact, with his 22nd place finish at Richmond and less then stellar road course record this season, Ryan Blaney is almost a guaranteed pick to be out in the first round. Fortunately for Blaney, his saving grace could be the opener at Las Vegas, where he finished fifth last time.
In the end, Blaney is almost in a must win situation at Las Vegas and needs to at least gain a good point lead from there. Maybe its enough to carry him past past his subpar performances at Richmond and road courses or maybe its not enough, but he at least has to start things off on a positive note at Vegas. If not, he will likely be out in the very first round of the playoffs.
5 Jimmie Johnson
Believe it or not, Jimmie Johnson could be out of the playoffs by the first round. Not only is that evident by his absolutely abysmal record so far this season, but also by just how far off the mark he has been compared to the big three this year. Of course Johnson could always get back on track with a win, but what are the chances of that actually happening with how competition is right now.
With that being said, there would need to be 12 drivers ahead of him at the end of the first three races to eliminate him fro ,the playoffs and that’s not actually that fair fetched at this point in time. In fact, with two top-fives and eight top-ten’s in the first 26 races of the season, he could very well be at the very bottom of the standings after the very first round.
4 Ricky Stenhouse Jr
Its not looking good for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Not that it has at any point throughout the 2018 season so far, but it looks like things are only going to get worse as time goes on. Unfortunately for Stenhouse and his team, the first round consists of Las Vegas, and Richmond, both tracks he failed to place in the top-15 at this year.
Then you have The Charlotte Road course set to end the first round for the first time in the sports history, which is not a historically great track type for Stenhouse Jr. If you look at Sonoma and Watkins Glen earlier this season, he finished 18th and 16th respectively. In the end, maybe if a few other drivers mess up he can squirm his way into the top-12, but that kind of wishful thinking needs to be followed by a huge uptick in performance.
3 Martin Truex Jr
These next few picks will be different in that they will be based on later rounds of the playoffs and include more outside factors. For Martin Truex Jr, those outside factors are going to be where he is going to be racing next year, which is now in unknown due to Furniture Row Racing announcing that the team would cease operations next year.
Unfortunately for Truex Jr who he will race for next year, coupled with the mistakes that Truex Jr and his team has made the last few weeks seems to point to him not lasting long in the playoffs. Sure, it might sound crazy to base a championship off of a rough spot a driver is having, but Truex Jr just looks like he’s ready to fall apart spectacularly in the later rounds of the playoffs.
2 Alex Bowman
Alex Bowman should have probably appeared earlier on this list, but with the luck based nature of the playoffs, its perfectly reasonable to see him finishing ahead of a few drivers in the first round. With that being said, however, it also seems pretty evident that lack of experience, equipment and performance will all snowball into him being eliminated in the second or third
Of course that’s not to say that anything more should have been expected him of him in his first year with Hendrick Motorsports, but he needs time to grow into the championship threat that he can truly become. Unfortunately for Bowman, that’s not going to happen in one season and his lack of quality finishes at playoff tracks is going to come back to bite him.
1 Kyle Busch
Did you think Martin Treux Jr was the only member of the big three that would end up on this list? While that would have been true if only the first round was considered, when you look a little bit further out, you see it is Kyle Busch that will have the most trouble. In fact, if you look at the second round in particular , he has struggled to place a top-ten finish at any of tracks this season.
With that being said, the interesting part is how good Kyle Busch is statistically in the third of the playoffs. Not only does he have Texas, which he won at earlier this year, and two second place finishes at Martinsville and Phoenix. If nothing else, Kyle Busch could very well win it all, but that’s only if he can make it past the second round of the playoffs.