Double the fun going into Bristol

This upcoming weekend at Bristol is set to be great in every way possible, and all the main three divisions of NASCAR have big races coming up. It’s a Cup Series cut-off race, it’s the Xfinity Series regular season finale, and it’s the Playoff opener for the Truck Series.

First up is the Truck Series, where ten drivers have qualified for the playoffs, it’s pretty straight forward for everyone involved. Three rounds where the top 8 advance, and with the gap from Sheldon Creed in 1st down to Tyler Ankrum on 10th being only 24 points, these playoffs are wide open.

For the Xfinity Series season finale, the playoff field is pretty much set. The gap from Brandon Brown in 12th to Jeremy Clements in 13th is 49 points, so it’s going to take a minor miracle for Clements to make the playoffs. However, the win and you’re in-formula could easily change this and put Brown outside the playoff. I honestly don’t see this happening, but it’s racing, so anything can happen.

On Saturday night the first cut-off race of the Cup Series playoffs will take place. There are five drivers within 12 points around the cut-off line, and basically 13 drivers who can still fall out. Joey Logano (+51), Martin Truex Jr. (+38) and Austin Dillon (+36) are all somewhat safe to advance, if they just have decent races and stay in it to the end. Chase Elliott (+28 and Alex Bowman (+27) are in similar situations but are still going to have to score some stage points just to stay in full control of their own destinies. The first driver that has to be somewhat worried is Kyle Busch. Despite being 18 points clear of the cut line, he is still going to need a solid race to make sure he advances through to the Round of 12. I don’t think any of these drivers will have to be too worried about making it, but there is always the element of surprise in racing, and when it comes to NASCAR, always expect the unexpected.

Aric Almirola (+7), Kurt Busch (+7), Clint Bowyer (+3), William Byron (-3) and Cole Custer (-8) are all basically just racing each other, and just like the trio at Talladega, this will be the main group to keep an eye on if you want to see some exciting racing. With them all being well capable of finishing in the top 10, or maybe even scoring a win, these guys will race harder than ever for every stage point they can get, as one single point could be the difference between making the Round of 12, and being knocked out of the playoffs. Looking at the races at Bristol from earlier this year, all these drivers the speed to fight for the top 10 throughout, though for Almirola and Custer it ended in a pair of crashes, ultimately they are all very similar speed which is set to make this an incredible race. As we saw last time as well with the leaders, tempers will flare come the end of this race and I would not be too surprised if we see someone get turned for a spot in the Round of 12.

For Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney, Bristol is pretty much straight forward. Unless there’s a major crash taking out several of the previously mentioned contenders, both these drivers basically have to win to advance. They are only 25 and 27 points out respectively, but with the amount of points at least three of those five drivers are most likely going to score, these two will either have to be up front all day long, scoring the maximum points in all stages, or simply just win the race.

I would love to be able to predict what is going to happen at Bristol, but it is literally the me most unpredictable race of the playoffs in my opinion, simply because it’s a short track, with so much on the line for so many. However, Chase Elliott is going to follow up on his All-Star success and score the win, Blaney will have a great day score just enough points to advance, while Almirola will join Byron, Custer and DiBenedetto below the cut line and outside the Round of 12.

/Linus Broström

The 2020 NASCAR playoffs are finally here!

It’s been a weird season so far, with COVID, iRacing, double headers, mid-week races and some driver controversies. But now, it’s finally time for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, and boy is it going to be good!

Kevin Harvick has dominated the whole season along with Denny Hamlin, together scoring half the wins of the regular season. So going in to the playoffs, these two obviously have the upper hand, starting out with more points than anybody else. Looking at the different rounds though, I’m not so sure it’s going to be just a walk in the park into the Final 4 for both of them.

Round of 16 is compiled of three short tracks, if you want to call Darlington a short track, but It sort of drives like one. Then the Round of 12 is Las Vegas, Talladega and the ROVAL at Charlotte. This is probably going to be the toughest round for most of the playoff drivers, mainly because Talladega is a free-for-all, and not everyone is great at road courses. So to get through this one, you are going to have to be outperforming your expectations every single race. The Round of 8 is two 1.5 mile tracks, with Martinsville as the cut-off for the Final 4, and that is going to be one heck of a race. Then the final is a Phoenix, where I’m expecting Harvick to win the Championship, should he make the cut for the Final 4.

Starting off though with the Round of 16, there are a few key points when looking at the field. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin is one, with their domination and whether that will continue or not. He cut-off races throughout these playoffs being Bristol, the ROVAL and Martinsville makes for some really tricky situations for the drivers battling for those final spots at each cut. Will Matt DiBenedetto be able to score his first playoff points, and will he even be able to make it through the first round? What will Austin Dillon and Cole Custer be able to accomplish? These were the two drivers that got in solely based on their wins, so will they be able to back that up, or will they fall out straight away.

Then there is Kyle Busch. The reigning champion who is yet to win a race in 2020. He is going into these playoffs with three total playoff points. One from a stage win, and two from finishing the regular season in 9th place. Will he even be able to make it through the first round? I’m fairly confident he will, specially considering the speed he showed earlier this year at Darlington. He is always a contender at Bristol as well, so even if he doesn’t get his first win of the season in this round, I expect him to rack up enough points to go through.

My predictions for the Round of 16 and the drivers who will not advance are: Aric Almirola, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron and Cole Custer. As much as I want DiBenedetto to go through, I just don’t think he will be able to pull it off. And putting Dillon through to the Round of 12? Well, that probably comes from him being my favourite driver, and me wishing him more luck and points than he will probably get.

/ Linus Broström

Predictions for an unpredictable Daytona

Coming up this weekend is what I consider, one of the most anticipated NASCAR races in a long time. Going in to the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season finale, just about everyone has something to race for one way or another. The strategies will be all over the place, and a lot of the drivers will need to come into Daytona with completely different mind sets from one another. So, despite this probably being one of the most unpredictable races in years, I will do my best to predict exactly how this race is going to unfold.

 First and foremost is off course the bubble drivers. Clint Bowyer is all but locked in to the playoffs, and for him not to make the cut, William Byron needs to win both stages and finish the race at least 3rd, with somebody outside the top 16 winning the races. If he wants to control his own destiny however, he basically needs to make sure he survives long enough to finish 32nd. So expect Bowyer to hang out at the back for most of the race, either until Byron has failed to score enough stage points, or until enough people have crashed out.

Matt DiBenedetto (+9), William Byron (+4) and Jimmie Johnson (-4) will all have pretty much the exact same objective for the race, which is score as many points as possible, but still be there at the end. Sound simple, right? Not exactly, it’s anything but simple. Every single move these guys make throughout this race could make or break their entire season. So exactly how these guys will approach Daytona is almost impossible to predict. For Matt DiBenedetto I think it will be all about staying up front all race long. He’s got his Penske Racing affiliates to help him out, and those have been some of the fastest cars on plate tracks over the last few years. So if they can make their way to the front, those Penske boys will be doing all the blocking for him, making sure he’s 2nd or 3rd at the end of each stage, while one of them passes him off turn 4 to take the stage wins.

The fact that Byron and Johnson are teammates obviously doesn’t help their situations either, as they’ll have to work together while desperately trying to beat each other. “But there are two slots available, so why can’t they just work together and finish 15th and 16th in the standings?”. Because if somebody outside the top 16 wins the race, the cut-off line moves up, and only 15th place gets in. So then the issue becomes who is going to get the most stage points of the two throughout the race, and who is going to be leading come the last couple of laps? Rick Hendrick has probably got the toughest job of all team owners this week, as he can come out of Daytona with anywhere between two and four cars in the playoffs.

What about the guys already locked in to the playoffs? They’ve got nothing to race for, so why would they still need to score points? These are unfortunate misperceptions I see a lot of on from fans on social medias. Put simply, every position in the points standings is worth another playoff point. Kevin Harvick already secure the 15 points for wining the regular season, but 2nd place also gets an additional 10 points, 3rd place gets 8 points and then it drops one point per position down to 1 point for 10th place. So coming to the finish line in each of these stages, everyone will be doing everything they can to get as far up in the top 10 as possible, not to mention what it will be like at the end of the race. Cause even if you don’t score that one playoff point you get for a stage win, dropping or gaining a position on the last few yards, could end up being the difference between gaining or losing a point going in to the playoffs. These are points that you carry through each round of the playoffs as well, so it’s not just one point at start of the playoffs. It’s one point more to start off the Round of 12 as well, and potentially even the Round of 8.

Looking back at the cut-off races these last couple of years, it’s pretty obvious that one or two points could be the difference between advancing or your season being over. Now obviously different drivers are in different positions, like Denny Hamlin in 2nd and Aric Almirola in 8th have no chance of gaining a position, so I’m expecting them to be taking it easy in the first half of the race, to make sure they survive long enough to be there at the end to score just enough points to keep their positions. Drivers like Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott or Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer on the other hand who are all within a few points of each other, will most likely be pushing themselves to the limit most of the race to score just about as many points as they can to try and gain or retain that extra play-off points.

Then there is the final group of drives who just have one mission throughout the entire race, lead at the end of the final lap! The only way for the drivers outside the top 17 (inside the top 30) to get in to the playoffs is to win at Daytona. Erik Jones in 18th can get in without a win should absolutely everything go his way, but he needs to go into Daytona with the mentality of winning the race. How these guys approach the race will obviously (again) vary from driver to driver, but they cannot afford to put themselves in harms way and get involved in any wrecks what so ever, so I’m expecting most of these drivers to hang out back until we are halfway through the final stage. It’s all about risk versus reward for all these drivers, and if they are to win the race, first they need to make it the final stage, and ultimately lap 160.

A driver like Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will most likely put himself up front as quickly as possible and do everything he can to be in contention all day, but with that comes a great risk. It could reward him with a win, but it could just as well put him on the back of a tow truck. Of the drivers currently outside the playoffs, the five drivers I think have the best shot at winning their way into the playoffs are Tyler Reddick, Ryan Preece, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Jimmie Johnson and Christopher Bell. Off course all 14 drivers have a good shot, but in the end, there are a total of 40 cars out on the track, and one little mistake from one of those drivers could end the day for half the field.

So, my predictions. Joey Logano will score his first win since Phoenix in early March, with Matt DiBenedetto and Jimmie Johnson securing the final two spots in the playoffs. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will have led a lap by lap 30, the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas will go with their own weird pit strategy, and Penske Racing along with the Wood Brothers #21 will be 1-2-3-4 at some point during the race.

/Linus Broström

Double up at Dover Downs – One race to go

Six spectacular races in three days is what we were treated with at Dover International Speedway this weekend! Unfortunately, fans were not allowed to attend, but if they were, I bet they would’ve had an amazing weekend. On Friday Ty Gibbs won the ARCA Menards East Series race, which was followed up by a win by Zane Smith in the Truck Series. On Saturday we saw the first part of the double double-header with Justin Allgaier finally scoring his first win of the season in the Xfinity Series, and Denny Hamlin winning the Cup Series race, scoring the maximum of 60 points. On Sunday Chase Briscoe scored his first Xfinity Series win since Indianapolis, followed by Kevin Harvick winning the final Cup Series race, scoring 60 points as well.

By winning the first stage in Sundays race, Kevin Harvick secured the win of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series regular season, giving him an additional 15 playoff points. Behind Hamlin and Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. finished 2nd in both races, following up on his five straight 3rd place finishes, which mean he’s now got SEVEN straight top 3 finishes, without a win. No matter what happens at Daytona, that has got to be a great momentum builder going into the playoffs.

Behind these guys though, as usual, my main focus at this point of the season is the playoff bubble battle. Going into this double header weekend at Dover, Clint Bowyer and Matt DiBenedetto both had a 66 point gap down to the cut-off line while William Byron had 25. Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones and Tyler Reddick was just below the line, 25, 35 and 57 points behind respectively.

On Saturday Clint Bowyer had one of his best races of the season, scoring 15 stage points and finishing in the 6th position, with Jimmie Johnson in 7th with seven stage points. Meanwhile Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron struggled badly all race long, finishing 20th and 28th with no stage points. Erik Jones finished 12th and Tyler Reddick 13th.  This brought DiBenedetto’s gap down to a mere 27 points, while Johnson moved up above the cut-off line, just three points ahead of Byron who dropped out of the top 16.

On Sunday the table was completely flipped over for some drivers and William Byron went from miserable to great overnight. With a good strategy call to finish off the first stage he managed to score 8 stage points by finishing 3rd. At the end of the day though it was Jimmie Johnson who finished best of the bubble drivers in 3rd with William Byron in 4th. However, thanks to his 13 stage points compared to Johnsons five, Byron outscored Johnson by seven points, moving him back above the cut-off line, for now. The rest of the bubble drivers had an intense battle among themselves further back, fighting it out for every single point they could get and in the end Clint Bowyer finished 16th, Matt DiBenedetto 17th, Tyler Reddick 18th and Erik Jones finished 20th. This drops Reddick out of the playoff battle, putting him in a must win situation going into Daytona.

With just one race left of the 2020 regular season, things couldn’t be more intense. And with the final race being at Daytona, absolutely anything can happen. And remember, a surprise win by somebody below the cut-off line at Daytona will shake things up even more. So these guys are basically racing for 15th place to be “safe”. All in all, there is 60 points to race for at Daytona, so each of these drivers will probably have a slightly different approach to the race, but in the end they will all have to be there at the end if they want to have a shot at getting in to the playoffs.

Here is the current playoff battle: (numbers in brackets are points gained or lost at Dover)
14. Clint Bowyer +57 (-9)
15. Matt DiBenedetto +9 (-57)
16. William Byron +4 (-21)
17. Jimmie Johnson -4 (+21)
18. Erik Jones -50 (-15)

Before Daytona I will give you my predictions on the most unpredictable race of the season, so stay tuned.

/Linus Broström

Great upsets at treatures Daytona

The expectations were high going in to the first ever NASCAR race at the Daytona road course, but with no practice for either of the main series, I think most people were expecting three massive wreck fests. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but at the same time the racing wasn’t as good as I think most people were expecting either. Going to a brand-new track for most of these drivers and not giving them a single lap of practice was bound to make the races somewhat spread out, specially at the front of the field. Then again that tends to happen at most road courses anyways. I just think if they would have given the drivers 30 minutes of practice, the racing would’ve been a lot better. I was personally very positively surprised as to how clean the racing was, and how much great racing we still got to see throughout the field. Even though the front was somewhat spread out at times, there were still some really intense battles going on throughout each of the races.

In the Xfinity race on Saturday we saw a lot of cars slightly missing the entry to the back straight chicane, causing a couple of splitters to dig into the mud and literally send them flying over the track towards the infield barrier. Austin Cindric pretty much dominated the race, scoring and impressive 59 of the possible 60 points and his fifth win in six races. In the Truck race on Sunday, Sheldon Creed survived the late carnage and won following a green-white-checkered, also scoring 59 points. Then on Sunday afternoon Chase Elliott showed off his road course skills, capitalising on Martin Truex Jr. pit road speeding penalty and scored his third straight road course win. Denny Hamlin was right on Elliott’s rear bumper throughout the last three lap shoot-out but was never able to get close enough to make a move, so Hamlin had to settle for 2nd, with Truex in 3rd.

Further back behind those guys though there were some great performances by other driver we don’t normally see score a lot of points in the Cup Series, along with some of the playoff contenders racking up decent amount of points. Jimmie Johnson finished 4th with 8 stage points, Chris Buescher finished 5th, Clint Bowyer in 6th with 16 stage points, Kaz Grala who subbed for Austin Dillon finished 7th in his first ever Cup race, William Byron in 8th with 11 stage points and Michael McDowell finished 10th. Looking at the rest of the playoff bubble drivers we had Eric Jones in 11th, Matt DiBenedetto in 15th, Tyler Reddick in 18th and Kyle Busch in 37th. Now you may wonder why I would include Kyle, but with his misfortunes in recent weeks, he is only 100 points clear of the cut-off line, and should someone currently below the cut-off win either of the remaining three races, that gap is down to 75 points.

Here is the current playoff battle: (numbers in brackets are points gained or lost at Daytona)

13. Kyle Busch +100 (-40)
14. Clint Bowyer +66 (+6)
15. Matt DiBenedetto +66 (+9)
16. William Byron +25 (+1)
17. Jimmie Johnson -25 (+1)
18. Erik Jones -35 (-9)
19. Tyler Reddick -57 (-21)

The remaining three regular season races for the NASCAR Cup Series is a double header at Dover and a 400 miles race at the Daytona oval. So, coming out of Dover, all these seven drivers will be looking to be well clear of 16th place, as an upset winner at Daytona would move the cut-off line up. Unless of course, they can go out there and grab a win at Dover.

Later this week we will take a look at the Rookie of the Year battle as we are approaching the ⅔ mark of the season. Who’s done what, who’s been good where and who is in the best position to win this year’s title. I will also do my best to analyse next years schedule as soon as that is released, but as it stands now, that will probably not be released for at least another couple of weeks.

/Linus Broström