The 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series playoffs are about to begin, with the 16 drivers who will contend in the ‘Chase for the Sprint Cup’ now set as of last weekend’s race at Richmond. The final 10 races of the season will decide who will win the championship, so it’s going to be intense.
With the title on the line in this final run to the line, here’s a look at what we can expect to see in the final 10 races, along with my predictions for who will be eliminated in each knockout round, along with who will win the title at the final race at Homestead.
Momentum is key during ‘the Chase’ and it is undeniable that some drivers in top 16 have recently begun a run of strong finishes. Others have consistently been fighting for victory all season long. Of course, any of these drivers can have a poor first round of ‘the Chase’ and be knocked out straight away, but I do believe that there are a select few drivers who look set to be eliminated in round one no matter what.
Unfortunately, that mantle goes to Chris Buescher. When the driver the #34 Ford when at Pocono, it was a surprise. The reason? He was outside of the top 30 in points and hadn’t really impressed up until then. Whilst, in Motorsport, a win is a win, you can’t deny that without the rain in Pocono, Buescher wouldn’t be in ‘the Chase’ right now. Buescher will be hoping for similar luck to strike so that he is able to advance out of round one, but I don’t think he’s going to be able to get enough points to advance otherwise.
Other than Buescher, I believe the cut-off after the first knockout round will be incredibly tight. Despite a couple of dominant performances by some drivers every now again, the Sprint Cup series so far has seen many winners; 13 so far. Even the drivers that raced in on points – Chase Elliot, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray – and quite capable of out-racing the other drivers in ‘the Chase’, potentially even managing to get to victory lane.
The closeness of the field, along with the ever-present potential for something out of ordinary to occur in NASCAR, means that it is tough to make an accurate prediction as to who will be eliminated. I do believe that, along with Buescher, we will see Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray eliminated, along with Tony Stewart. Whilst it’s true that Stewart’s performances improved massively after he took victory at Sonoma, his ‘questionable’ actions in the last two races at Darlington and Richmond will have put his good momentum on hold; in my opinion.
The next three races, the second knockout stage, holds what must be the race that is lingering on the minds of all the drivers; Talladega. They say it’s a matter of when the field will wreck rather than if, and each wreck has the potential to eliminate any of the remaining 12 drivers who reach that stage. This is why I have predicted that we will see strong drivers unable to advance into the third and final knockout round.
Again, it isn’t possible to predict who could be involved in wrecks, but I have put Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch down for elimination on my ‘Chase table’ that you can see at the end of the article. The reason I have selected those drivers is that I believe others will be much stronger in that round. Martin Truex Jr, for example, led
Martin Truex Jr, for example, led for the most amount of time in any NASCAR race in history at Charlotte back in May, so he could well do so again. Equally, the reason I have selected Chase Elliott to advance is that the #24 team are always quick at Superspeedway races, with Chase having taken pole at the Daytona 500 at Talladega earlier this year. He has every chance of being able to take a first Sprint Cup victory, which would automatically put him into the next round.
When it comes down to the final elimination round, four drivers will be eliminated, with the remaining four heading to the final round of the championship with a chance of winning the Sprint Cup championship. Here are the four drivers I have predicted will be racing for the title and why I believe they will be there.
Kyle Busch: The reigning champion has an advantage that he didn’t have last year; he’s been in the car all season and has been one of the most successful so far. He enters ‘the Chase’ as the joint top seed along with Brad Keselowski, but thankfully for him, his car has consistently challenged as opposed to the somewhat unpredictable pace of the Penske Fords. It would be foolish to write off Busch’s chances this season, and provided he can stay out of trouble, he has a chance to take a second consecutive title in November.
Kevin Harvick: Kevin Harvick has been a constant contender for the last few years. He won the Sprint Cup championship in his first year with Stewart-Haas Racing and has just begun a run of good form. He won at Bristol and was in contention for the win at Darlington until his pit crew messed up. When Harvick has a good car, a good crew, and good luck, he is a massive threat. If Stewart-Haas can up their game to match his level, we could easily see the #4 team racing for the title at Homestead once again.
Martin Truex Jr: Truex Jr has had one hell of a rollercoaster ride this season. From the lows of losing the Daytona 500 by an inch and race after race of bad luck whilst fighting for wins, to the highs of winning at two of the toughest races on the calendar, the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte and the Southern 500 at Darlington. He’s been one of the most regular contenders for wins throughout the year, only to be denied those wins by circumstances largely out of control. Provided he can stay on the right side of fortune, I believe he has one of the strongest cars in the field and could easily make it to Homestead.
Kyle Larson: The #42 Target Chip Ganassi team upped their game at just the right time. Since winning at Michigan a few weeks ago, Larson has done just what everyone expected he’d do when he finally secured his first win. He, like Truex Jr and Harvick, has just started a surge of good pace. After his win at Michigan, he was once again in the running for the lead at the end of the race in Darlington. Then at Richmond last weekend he was able to go from 12th to 2nd in the final two laps after a great strategy call for fresh tyres by his team. Kyle Larson has shown flashes of pace throughout the year, but his and the team’s new-found confidence after their breakout win could make him very dangerous and very much in contention at the end of ‘the Chase’.
So there are my four picks for who will be racing for the title at Homestead. Whilst it’s been hard to make a prediction as to who will make it through to each round, it’s even harder to predict who will be champion at the end of it. If I had to make a pick, however, I would go with Truex Jr. Like I said before if the #78 Furniture Row team can keep their act together and not make mistakes on pit road, they can easily emerge from the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as champions; and what a story it would be.
Here is my full ‘Chase table’, showing my picks for each of the rounds making up the playoffs:
That’s what I think will happen, but there’s every chance that I could be totally and utterly wrong. There’s only one way to find out. Tune in for the first race of the playoffs this weekend, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
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