I have a feeling the Round of 12 could be a wild one in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. It all gets started this weekend at the Dover International Speedway. Currently, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske drivers hold the top four spots in the points standings and five of the top seven overall. Throw in Kevin Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing entry in there and you get six of the top seven.
They’ve combined to win 23 of the 29 races this season and eight of the last 10. Furthermore, since this playoff format was adopted in 2014, Penske, JGR and SHR have taken 70-percent of the spots available in the Championship 4. But, the last two years the final round as been all Penske, JGR and SHR drivers with the exception of Martin Truex Jr. and the recently folded Furniture Row Racing team.
Also, if you go back to 2016, JGR, SHR and Penske have combined to win 91 of the 137 races run in NASCAR’s premiere series to go along with holding eight of the 12 spots in the Round of 12.
But, this could also be the round where the four Chevrolet drivers that are still eligible for the playoffs shine.
Three of those four are on the same team at Hendrick Motorsports. The fourth is Kyle Larson with Chip Ganassi Racing. Can any of these four top the Penske, JGR and SHR drivers?
While numbers and overall season stats aren’t on their side, I can make a solid case to where all four make it to the Round of 8.
The top four in the standings have struggled on the three tracks this round. So has another Penske driver in Ryan Blaney.
The Chevy drivers meanwhile – have thrived.
The only driver not of JGR/SHR/Penske to have won in the last 10 races was Chase Elliott. He just won last Sunday in Charlotte and also won the playoff races last year at Dover and Kansas. Those are the first and third races of this round. The middle race at Talladega, Elliott was victorious at back in April. This could be a very good round for him. He has six top five finishes in seven Dover starts and three top four finishes in his last four Kansas starts.
Alex Bowman finished second last weekend in Charlotte and runner-up at literally all three of these playoffs tracks this round earlier this season. The momentum is starting to sway towards his side.
William Byron may be the only one of them that struggles while Kyle Larson could end his winless drought at any given time.
Larson, has seven top eight finishes in his last nine starts on the year to go along with a third place run at Dover back in May. He also has four top 10 finishes in his last five Dover starts. At Kansas, Larson was fourth and eighth respectively in the last two spring races and third in the playoff race last year.
Combine all of that with Kyle Busch not having won a race since June 2 and having scored just four top five finishes in his last 12 starts on the season too. Dover has been good to him in the fall (3 top 2’s in his last 4 starts) but the Monster Mile is capable of biting him too with four finishes of 30th or worse in his last six spring races there. His best result in the spring is 10th. Then, it’s to Talladega, a place that’s a crapshoot. From there, it’s to Kansas, a place Busch finished 30th at back in May. With three finishes of 19th or worse in his last four, this could be a worrisome round for the JGR driver.
Same for his championship eligible teammates.
Martin Truex Jr. won at Dover back in the spring and does have five top four finishes in his last six starts there, but he also was 15th in last year’s playoff race. Again, Talladega is next, a place Truex has always struggled. Finally, it’s to Kansas where Truex came home 19th back in the spring. He, like Busch, needs to get a great start this weekend at Dover.
Denny Hamlin has just two top five finishes since the Fall of 2010 at Dover. He’s a good superspeedway racer but you can’t bank of a good finish at Talladega though. Anything can happen there. Then, it’s to Kansas where Hamlin was 16th back in May and 14th in last year’s playoff race. Hamlin, had a stretch of six consecutive top five finishes late in the summer, he’s had three finishes of 15th or worse in his last five since.
All three of them could struggle this round and have to bank of playoff points to get them by.
What about Joey Logano?
He hasn’t won since June 10. He has just two top five finishes at Dover since 2014. He was seventh on the Monster Mile back in May. Talladega could be a good place for him if he’s lucky. Then, it’s to Kansas to close the round where he finished 15th back in May and has three finishes of 15th or worse in his last five starts there.
The top four may not be the top four in three weeks. That opens the door for Elliott, Bowman, Byron and Larson.