With just four races remaining in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season, the sense of urgency is about to pick up. With his win at Loudon this weekend, Aric Almirola secured a playoff spot. His success is so vital that he sits tied for 24th in the points standings, but his win automatically places him in the final 16 for the Playoffs. It also tightens the race for the final spot. Before the race, Kevin Harvick was almost 200 points ahead of Chris Buescher for the final spot; now, he is only 82 points ahead of Austin Dillon for the final spot.
Let’s throw some hypothetical situations at you. Say, in the last four races, Matt Dibenedetto and Ross Chastain win a race. The cut line would move from Kevin Harvick to Denny Hamlin. Can you imagine the anarchy that would be if the driver leading the season points standings failed to make the Playoffs? It is possible, and it might happen. In those last four races in Watkins Glen, which has produced some surprise winners before, the Road Course at Indy, Michigan, and a wild card race at Daytona. The recent trend says that we could see another first-time winner before we start the playoffs. Last season, William Byron won his first career race in the regular-season finale at Daytona to clinch the final playoff spot. Let’s give that one to Dibenedetto here. Ross Chastain has done well at the left and right turn tracks this year, so I will provide him with Watkins Glen. But what if Chris Buescher wins at Michigan?
If Denny Hamlin does not win a race, and the drivers listed above do win, Denny would miss the playoffs. This would mark the first time in any sport in the history of sports that the team that was in first place during the regular season missed the playoffs. I mean, think about that in terms of other sports. That is the equivalent of the Patriots going undefeated and missing the playoffs. I think this dynamic is what makes NASCAR unique. After all, when the sanctioning body emphasized winning races to win a title, this is precisely what they had hoped would happen. The chaos is what the fans crave. Remember the days of watching an entire race and never seeing a caution? Probably not, Stage Racing fixed that problem, and in turn, created the chaotic finishes that keep the fans happy.
By no means do I really think that Denny Hamlin will miss the playoffs; I actually think he wins a race before the playoffs begin. It would make for a great news story if he does miss out, but the odds are very slim. Time will tell, and I think you can look at history for lessons on who will make the playoffs and who won’t. I would bet on Hamlin and Harvick, but the final spot might go to a driver that not many pick, in Ross Chastain.