Breaking down the 2018 Monster Energy Cup series playoff drivers contenders

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The NASCAR playoffs have a special massive three this 12 months — as in a special three tracks for the primary playoff spherical.

It is not Chicagoland-New Hampshire-Dover. It is Las Vegas-Richmond-Charlotte highway course.

And whereas that may be a new twist, loads of acquainted faces are within the 2018 playoffs. There are 5 drivers — Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola and Alex Bowman — who did not make the playoffs final 12 months. They change Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman. However all the eight drivers who made the semifinal spherical (the third spherical) a 12 months in the past are again. So here is a take a look at how they stack up:

The large three

Kyle Busch

Workforce: Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota
Crew chief: Adam Stevens
2018 common season factors end: 1st
2018 wins: 6
2018 playoff factors: 50 (T-1st)
Earlier playoff appearances: 10
Championships: 1 (2015)
Westgate odds: 9-Four

Why he’ll win: He has 14 top-Three finishes this 12 months. That is the kind of efficiency one must get to the finals (to not point out his 15 playoff factors). He is aware of what it takes at Homestead, and almost pulled off the championship final 12 months. He has received at Richmond and Texas this 12 months, each playoff tracks.
Why he will not: Harvick goes to be robust to beat.
Busch says: “Fortunately with our season and our success that we have had with the 18 crew, we have that time cushion.”

2 Associated

Kevin Harvick

Workforce: Stewart-Haas Racing No. Four Ford
Crew chief: Rodney Childers
2018 regular-season factors end: 2nd
2018 wins: 7
2018 playoff factors: 50 (T-1st)
Earlier playoff appearances: 11
Championships: 1 (2014)
Westgate odds: 9-Four

Why he’ll win: His seven wins this 12 months should not due to something besides nice race automobiles and execution. He has received at 4 tracks this 12 months which can be within the playoffs — Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dover and Kansas. He has led laps in 18 races this 12 months, probably the most of any driver. Main laps and profitable races usually makes the distinction.
Why he will not: Homestead isn’t this crew’s finest monitor.
Harvick says: “I do not suppose it is a unhealthy spot. I believe we did a great job within the first 26 and now you’ve got simply obtained to do it once more in 10 extra.”

Martin Truex Jr.

Workforce: Furnishings Row Racing No. 78 Toyota
Crew chief: Cole Pearn
2018 regular-season factors end: third
2018 wins: Four
2018 playoff factors: 35 (third)
Earlier playoff appearances: 5
Championships: 1 (2017)
Westgate odds: 9-2

Why he’ll win: He received it final 12 months and this crew is on a mission since it’s closing its doorways after 2018.
Why he will not: The efficiency hasn’t been there in comparison with the dominance of final 12 months and typically the emotional saga — this one in every of being a crew that’s closing store — may be an excessive amount of of a weight, an excessive amount of of a drain.
Truex says: “You bought to be quick each week and you bought to execute. For those who take a look at our common end within the playoffs final 12 months, it was simply ridiculous.”

Finest Bets To Be No. Four

Kyle Larson has pressed the highest drivers in NASCAR this 12 months and hopes to up the ante within the playoffs. Sean Gardner/Getty Photographs

Kyle Larson

Workforce: Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet
Crew chief: Chad Johnston
2018 regular-season factors end: eighth
2018 wins: zero
2018 playoff factors: 5 (T-10th)
Earlier playoff appearances: 2
Championships: zero
Westgate odds: 10-1

Why he’ll win: He has completed in second in 5 races this 12 months. Of any driver to problem the highest three, he has completed it probably the most persistently. Plus, he is nice at Homestead.
Why he will not: He has been too inconsistent and this crew might need to shake a few of its previous bad-luck playoff demons.
Larson says: “We now have some good tracks for us within the playoffs, so hopefully we will catch some good luck and be capable to give a run for the championship.”

Brad Keselowski

Workforce: Workforce Penske No. 2 Ford
Crew chief: Paul Wolfe
2018 regular-season factors end: Sixth
2018 wins: 2
2018 playoff factors: 19 (T-4th)
Earlier playoff appearances: 6
Championships: 1 (2012)
Westgate odds: 12-1

Why he’ll win: Keselowski made it to the championship spherical final 12 months with out being dominant, so he is aware of how one can work the system.
Why he will not: It takes pace, and his crew simply hasn’t had it this 12 months even prior to now two profitable weeks.
Keselowski says: “We’re excited and able to go, however there is a massive problem in entrance of us but additionally an unimaginable alternative.”

Kurt Busch

Workforce: Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford
Crew chief: Billy Scott
2018 regular-season factors end: 4th
2018 wins: 1
2018 playoff factors: 14 (T-Sixth)
Earlier playoff appearances: 11
Championships: 1 (2004)
Westgate odds: 25-1

Why he’ll win: Busch has the tenacity and bulldog perspective to get the job completed.
Why he will not: That tenacity and perspective often hinders focus. And with Busch leaving after this 12 months, any hiccups might thwart good outcomes.
Busch says: “It is the playoffs and we’ll simply work our means by means of and advance by means of the rounds.”

Clint Bowyer

Workforce: Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford
Crew chief: Mike Bugarewicz
2018 regular-season factors end: seventh
2018 wins: 2
2018 playoff factors: 15 (fifth)
Earlier playoff appearances: 6
Championships: zero
Westgate odds: 15-1

Why he’ll win: Bowyer received earlier this 12 months at Martinsville and doubtless can be a risk there once more. If he could make it to the third spherical and win Martinsville, who is aware of what’s going to occur?
Why he will not: Whereas this crew has received twice this 12 months, Bowyer has simply two top-10 end in his previous 9 begins.
Bowyer says: “We’re able to doing that. We will not make errors. Errors have wiped us out [this year].”

Joey Logano

Workforce: Workforce Penske No. 22 Ford
Crew chief: Todd Gordon
2018 regular-season factors end: fifth
2018 wins: 1
2018 playoff factors: 14 (T-Sixth)
Earlier playoff appearances: Four
Championships: zero
Westgate odds: 20-1

Why he’ll win: If any driver can “sneak” his means in, Logano might be that man. He was within the prime 4 in factors for the primary 21 weeks of the season, so he is aware of how one can keep out of hassle and get probably the most out of his automobile.
Why he will not: He has simply seven top-five finishes and simply three of these got here at tracks which can be within the playoffs. Battling to get into that championship race can be robust.
Logano says: “We simply need to get going, that is all. The playoffs are about to start out and hopefully we’ll do higher.”

Veterans With One thing To Show

Seven-time Cup Sequence winner Jimmie Johnson needed to sweat out a playoff berth going into the ultimate race. Robert Laberge/Getty Photographs

Jimmie Johnson

Workforce: Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet
Crew chief: Chad Knaus
2018 regular-season factors end: 14th
2018 wins: zero
2018 playoff factors: zero (T-15th)
Earlier playoff appearances: 14
Championships: 7 (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2016)
Westgate odds: 60-1

Why he’ll win: He is received seven titles, so it is not like he cracks beneath stress.
Why he will not: He has led simply 29 laps this 12 months and did not clinch a playoff spot till the final regular-season race. This is not the 48 crew of 2006-2010, nor even that of 2016.
Johnson says: “I am simply proud that I’ve made each playoff since NASCAR began them, in order that’s an enormous honor for me. Now we simply have to go the rounds and get scorching on the proper time.”

Denny Hamlin

Workforce: Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota
Crew chief: Mike Wheeler
2018 regular-season factors end: 10th
2018 wins: zero
2018 playoff factors: Three (13th)
Earlier playoff appearances: 11
Championships: zero
Westgate odds: 20-1

Why he’ll win: If not now, when? Hamlin has had higher seasons than this one and hasn’t received a title. However you’ll be able to’t depend him out every week, and he is not going to lack confidence.
Why he will not: Hamlin hasn’t made the ultimate 4 since 2014, the primary 12 months of this format. And prior to now three years, he has received seven races. This 12 months simply looks like one the place the outcomes simply aren’t there.
Hamlin says: “[Indy] was an enormous step in the appropriate path. We now have to be extra constant.”

Time To Make Noise

Aric Almirola

Workforce: Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Ford
Crew chief: John Klausmeier
2018 regular-season factors end: 13th
2018 wins: zero
2018 playoff factors: 1 (14th)
Earlier playoff appearances: 1
Championships: zero
Westgate odds: 50-1

Why he’ll win: Almirola has pace. If he and his crew can put collectively some stable, full races, he might discover his means into the championship race, the place something can occur.
Why he will not: He hasn’t received this 12 months. He has only one win in his complete profession. A driver must win to have a practical shot. At least, a driver should lead laps. And he has led simply 115 laps this 12 months.
Almirola says: “I really feel like we have quick race automobiles and we have an opportunity to go up there and compete to win races and go far into the playoffs.”

Chase Elliott has completed his finest driving late within the season, however can he make a postseason push? Bob Leverone/Getty Photographs

Chase Elliott

Workforce: Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet
Crew chief: Alan Gustafson
2018 regular-season factors end: 11th
2018 wins: 1
2018 playoff factors: eight (eighth)
Earlier playoff appearances: 2
Championships: zero
Westgate odds: 12-1

Why he’ll win: Elliott seems to be peaking on the proper time (though Indianapolis was a disappointment). He has a crew that’s skilled within the playoffs.
Why he will not: Hendrick Motorsports nonetheless seems to be a tick or two behind. It is uncertain it’ll make that up in time for Elliott to make a severe ultimate 4 run.
Elliott says: “Simply be stable [and be] getting as many factors as you’ll be able to attempting to seize a victory.”

Ryan Blaney

Workforce: Workforce Penske No. 12 Ford
Crew chief: Jeremy Bullins
2018 regular-season factors end: ninth
2018 wins: zero
2018 playoff factors: 7 (ninth)
Earlier playoff appearances: 1
Championships: zero
Westgate odds: 30-1

Why he’ll win: Blaney does not seem to let the stress get to him. And there is a number of stress come the playoffs.
Why he will not: He has simply 5 top-5 finishes in 26 races this 12 months. That proportion is not going to get it completed within the playoffs.
Blaney says: “Hopefully, we’re closing in on it. There’s just one solution to discover out and that is subsequent week.”

Austin Dillon

Workforce: Richard Childress Racing No. Three Chevrolet
Crew chief: Justin Alexander
2018 regular-season factors end: 19th
2018 wins: 1
2018 playoff factors: 5 (T-10th)
Earlier playoff appearances: 2
Championships: zero
Westgate odds: 50-1

Why he’ll win: That is his third time within the playoffs and if he can get to the second spherical, he’ll be a risk at Talladega. If he can get to the third spherical, if he can get some assist and if he may be sturdy at Homestead, he has a shot.
Why he will not: Depend the variety of occasions the phrase “if” seems within the paragraph above.
Dillon says: “We now have been racing the final couple of weeks prefer it’s playoff time and attempting to get as many factors as we will. We are going to go after it exhausting once we get to Vegas.”

Newbies

It is a 12 months of firsts for Erik Jones, as he is following up his first Cup Sequence victory along with his first playoff berth. Picture by Michael Bush/Icon Sportswire

Erik Jones

Workforce: Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota
Crew chief: Chris Gayle
2018 regular-season factors end: 12th
2018 wins: 1
2018 playoff factors: 5 (T-10th)
Earlier playoff appearances: zero
Championships: zero
Westgate odds: 25-1

Why he’ll win: The JGR automobiles are sturdy and he has been by means of this kind of elimination format within the Xfinity Sequence. He can rattle off sufficient top-5s to make it no less than to the semifinal spherical.
Why he will not: Whereas he did win at Daytona, he has led in simply 4 races this 12 months. He is nonetheless a 12 months away from actually competing for the title.
Jones says: “The final couple of weeks we have had top-5 automobiles and ran up entrance. That is been a great feeling as a crew and as a driver, however we simply have to preserve it going.”

Alex Bowman

Workforce: Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet
Crew chief: Greg Ives
2018 regular-season factors end: 15th
2018 wins: zero
2018 playoff factors: zero (T-15th)
Earlier playoff appearances: zero
Championships: zero
Westgate odds: 50-1

Why he’ll win: Ives has been within the playoffs earlier than and Bowman must be feeling good in regards to the accomplishment of simply making the playoffs.
Why he will not: Whereas he is not a rookie, he is a rookie to driving for an elite crew. Simply advancing to the subsequent spherical might be robust for this crew, which did not make the playoffs with
Dale Earnhardt Jr. a 12 months in the past.
Bowman says: “To make the playoffs in my first 12 months again is de facto cool. It is a particular factor to be part of.”

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