I will start this article off by saying I was wrong in saying that neither Richard Childress driver would make the playoffs. And then my following sentence will say that had Chase Elliot not blocked Matt DiBenedetto, I never would have had to say the first sentence because he likely wins the race. Moving on, though, I believe that some drivers get knocked out early that we are accustomed to seeing in the round of 8 or better. We will start with the first four out, though.
It’s kind of hard to believe that Kevin Harvick went winless in the Regular Season after having such a strong 2020 season. They have no momentum to grab onto right now, and I don’t think they make it out of the first round. All year long, even at tracks that Harvick has been stellar, they struggled to get top 10s. And now, with the playoffs in full swing, teams will be stepping up all over the place. I don’t see Harvick as one of those that can step up in the clutch right now.
I believe the following driver will have a tough time moving on is Tyler Reddick’s last driver. They are not coming off of a string of good runs either; in fact, their teammate Austin Dillon was the driver on the move right before the cutoff. I think you see Reddick get some quality finishes, but not enough to move on here. This was a pivotal year for both he and that team, they needed to run well to get better sponsors in the future, and I think they accomplished that by making the playoffs.
This is not the first time that Aric Almirola had made the playoffs, but I think this is the year that nobody thought he would. I for sure would not have said that going into the playoffs; he holds the only win on the year for Stewart-Haas Racing. But it’s been that kind of year for that entire team. I still attribute some of the failures to the lack of hands-on by Tony Stewart while he was creating and running his SRX Racing series over the summer. The real question now is, can they turn it around in the playoffs with Stewart back full time? I still say no. I believe they put all their eggs in the Next-Gen basket and will let this year go down in history.
Last but not least is the Daytona 500 Champion Michael McDowell. Kudos to him and his team for winning the Great American Race, but when you get into playoff mode, you need consistent finishes and occasional wins to advance, and they have been unable to find those two things. It is a great story for their team to succeed this season, but I see this as the most powerful long shot to advance past the first round. But looking forward to next year, he will still have his name out there as the defending champ of the Daytona 500, and when he retires, he will always have that title. I hope that someday, this team finds the right partners to push for more wins and more success.
As for a Darlington pick, it’s hard to pick against the Joe Gibbs guys, even with Hendrick’s momentum over the summer. But I think this race will be won by Kyle Busch or Martin Truex, Jr. This race hasn’t been a decider for the Championship 4, but you won’t get there if you get dropped in the first round either. Enjoy the race, have a great week, and stay safe out there!