Right now, you would think that this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship could come down to Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick or Joey Logano. They hold three of the top four spots in the standings heading into the Round of 12 and honestly should make the most noise too.
But, what if I told you that the champion will likely come from the group of either Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman or William Byron?
Since this format was adopted in 2014, the champion each year didn’t even make it out the second round the year prior. Take Kevin Harvick’s title in 2014 out of it since the format started that year but Kyle Busch, the 2015 champion, only got the second round in 2014. Same for Martin Truex Jr.. He won the 2017 championship but was bounced in the second round the year prior.
That’s the furthest the champion made the previous year.
Jimmie Johnson won the 2016 title but was eliminated in the opening round in 2015. Joey Logano won last year’s title but he wasn’t even a part of the playoffs in 2017.
So, if that trend continues, it’s good news for Hamlin, Blaney, Keselowski, Larson, Bowman and Byron.
Hamlin, would make the most sense with him being third in the standings and having at one point a stretch of six consecutive top five finishes. He has plenty of playoff points to help him move onto the Round of 8 and if he can get there, he’s strong at all three tracks.
Keselowski, makes sense too. He’s won a championship before and is flying under the radar. The Team Penske driver has five top five finishes in his last six starts on the season including eight top 10’s over his last 10 starts overall.
Larson also makes sense. He has seven top eight finishes in his last nine tries.
All three are more than capable of making a run. So could Blaney.
The Hendrick duo would be surprising but both are heating up. Bowman, finished runner-up in all three of the Round of 12 tracks back in the spring. He’s coming off of a runner-up last weekend. He has two top six finishes in his last three tries on the season.
Byron, has three top seven finishes in his last four tries on the year as well.
Meanwhile, the top drivers mentioned have struggled. Busch, hasn’t won since June 2. Out of his last 12 starts overall, he’s had just four top five finishes. Logano, hasn’t won since June 10. He has just one top five in those same 12 starts. What’s going for him is, the defending Cup champion has at least made it to the Round of 8 every year with three of the four making it back to the Championship 4 the following season. Will Logano be the exception?
Plus there’s this, we have five straight years of a different champion from a different team. SHR won in 2014. JGR won in 2015. HMS won in 2016. FRR won in 2017 and Penske won last year.
That leaves Ganassi and Larson as next ones up.
You can pencil Larson and Logano into the Championship 4 right now. Who joins them are up in the air.