Alright, just like I gloated about getting my Richmond prediction correctly, I will own the fact that I missed on my first four out of the Playoffs. I was wrong about Kevin Harvick. I went 3 out of 4, but I didn’t see Kurt Busch getting eliminated. If I had to pick one to be knocked out that wasn’t Harvick, it would have been Christopher Bell. Kudos to him for hanging in there and getting through to the Round of 12. He likely won’t make it to the Round of 8 though.
I think in a perfect Universe, the next Round would feature all four Hendrick drivers matched up against all four Joe Gibbs drivers. The media would eat this up like an American Royal Wedding, and the odds of that happening are likely less than 4%. My projection, if even close to correct, would seal that notion. NASCAR is about momentum, and carrying strong finishes from week to week is never a given, but it’s what you have to do to claim a Championship. This Round features a race at Las Vegas this weekend, followed by a wild card race at Talladega Superspeedway and an extra-large go-kart track at the Charlotte Roval.
All three of the previously mentioned races offer the winner a guaranteed spot in the next Round, but for some of the Round of 12 drivers, missing an opportunity at Las Vegas could put them in a must-win situation going forward. When I break down the drivers that can still win a title, the ones that I put on notice are Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick, and William Byron. Of the three, Byron might have a slight advantage because he has won at a restrictor-plate track before, and Bowman and Harvick have struggled at road courses so far. If any of the three have a real shot at advancing without winning a race, I would have to think leaving Las Vegas +15 points ahead of the cut-off is a must.
Even 15 points is not a comfortable margin, but considering mental mistakes seem to plague drivers in this particular Round, that cushion could be just enough to get that 8th spot. So making a selection of drivers to be eliminated wasn’t easy, but I feel like this list will be pretty close to perfect. It was easier to pick drivers that would advance than pick the ones that wouldn’t, and then looking at who is left is still hard to imagine.
Alex Bowman is my pick to finish 12th. He has not been great at road courses, and Talladega has also been a bit of a thorn for him. He might shock me and win a race in this Round, but these races don’t fit his wheelhouse much.
William Byron is my pick to finish 11th. I am positive plenty will disagree, but sneaking into the Round of 12 while racing at tracks that are strong points seems suspect. I never expected them to dominate, but they just haven’t seemed as capable of winning as they were earlier in the year.
Brad Keselowski is my pick to finish 10th. Look, the man has a lot going on, and he can say in the media all day that he is focused on this year and not next, but the team may lose focus knowing that he won’t be their driver next year. Of the drivers listed to be out, he is the one that actually has the best odds to make it. I don’t see it happening when the Ford’s have run slow for most of the year, topped with his distractions.
My final pick is another shocker; I’m going with Kyle Busch. Call me crazy, but Busch hates plate tracks and doesn’t run well there. He is a previous winner at Vegas, but they don’t look near as fast as Martin Truex, Jr. or Denny Hamlin right now. It’s not like he was in great shape heading into Bristol either, but things feel his way at the end. Best of luck to all the drivers in the future.