There are four races left in the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. Three of those races though will be in the Round of 8, as three races separate us from knowing which four drivers will be competing for the championship next month at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
First up, is the Martinsville (VA) Speedway this weekend. Next is a race at the Texas Motor Speedway next Sunday. Then, it’s to the ISM Raceway in Phoenix to conclude the third round of the playoffs.
The same format continues. If a playoff driver wins in any of the next three races, he automatically advances to the Championship 4. If we have one playoff winner and two non playoff winners, then we have three wildcard spots available. If we have two playoff winners and one non playoff winner, then we have two spots that will be filled by wildcard drivers. If we have all three races won by three different playoff drivers, then just one spot will be available to Homestead on points.
All likelihood will be that we have all three races won by playoff drivers and all three won by different drivers too.
I broke down each race and my crystal ball shows three different winners with one driver going to Homestead on points.
Martinsville – Denny Hamlin – He has four top five finishes in his last five starts on the season and a runner-up in this race last year. He was fifth back in the spring too. His playoff finishes on the paperclip recently have been – 3rd, 3rd, 7th and 2nd respectively.
Texas – Kevin Harvick – He’s won in each of the last two years in Texas to go along with three top two finishes in his last four tries. He’s been solid since the end of the summer with 10 top eight finishes in his last 12 tries. Furthermore, Harvick has 10 straight top 10 finishes on the Lonestar state track.
Phoenix – Kyle Larson – He’s my upset winner. We’ve had this format for five years and in each year we’ve had a different champion from a different team. Larson and Chip Ganassi Racing are the only combo left to have not won a title. He’s struggled in the past at Martinsville and Texas so faces a must win in Phoenix. He delivers. Larson, was third in this race last year and sixth in the spring. He won the last race on a 1-mile track in the last round at Dover.
Wildcard – Martin Truex Jr. – By those three winning, that leaves one spot left on points. Why not take the top driver? Nothing against the current points leader in Kyle Busch, but Martin Truex Jr. has been racing better than him lately. Truex, has a top seven finish in all but one start this postseason. He’s never won on any of these three tracks before but has been solid at each. He’s finished in the top eight in his last four Martinsville starts. He has seven top 10’s in his last nine Texas starts. He has three top five finishes including a runner-up this past spring in Phoenix in his last 14 starts in the desert.
5. 18 Kyle Busch – With Hamlin getting in on a win and Truex getting by on points, that leaves Busch as the top driver out. He’s good at these tracks in this round but hasn’t won since June 2. He also has just five top five finishes in his last 14 starts on the season. I think Martinsville (8 straight top 5’s) and Phoenix (2 straight wins, 3 straight top 2’s and 7 top 4’s in his last 8 starts) are going to be tracks he can easily win at, I just don’t think that he’s shown me that he can. Texas could be the factor that keeps him out. Busch’s last five Texas finishes have been 13th, 19th, 1st, 17th and 10th respectively.
6. 12 Blaney – He too can win at any track this round. He has four straight top eight finishes in Martinsville including a third place run after leading 145 laps in the spring race in 2018 and was fourth this past spring. Then, it’s to Texas where he had an engine let go while leading in the spring race. He led 45 laps that day. Last year, he was runner-up in the playoff race as he has three top six finishes in his last four Texas tries. Phoenix, he finished third in the spring but that’s his only top five in seven tries.
7. 9 Elliott – Martinsville is his best track this round with four top 10’s in his last five tries. He was runner-up in the spring. Texas, he’s just been alright with five top 10’s in seven starts, but only two of those were in the top five. In Phoenix, he was 14th in the spring and 23rd in last year’s playoff race. He does have finishes of eighth, ninth, 12th, second and third respectively prior though.
8. 22 Logano – Lets be real, the only reason he’s still championship eligible is because of playoff points. Logano, has one top five finish in his last 15 starts on the season. Nine of his last 12 finishes have been 10th or worse. Phoenix, isn’t a good track for him as since his win there in 2016, he’s finished 31st, 12th, 19th, 37th and 10th respectively. Texas, is a solid track with six top seven finishes in his last seven tries, but he was 17th back in April. Martinsville has seen him win at last year and have five top fives at since 2014, but he was also 19th back in the spring race.