The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs are set to begin this weekend in Las Vegas. A season that has, for the most part, been dominated by 3 drivers has comes down to these final 10 races. Let’s start by previewing the 3 races that make up the first round of the quest for the Monster Energy Cup, as well as some predictions for each race.
For the first time, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will contest a second race in Las Vegas during the season. This race will likely not be much different than the race here back in March. The favorite to win in this race is likely Kevin Harvick, one of the Big 3 in the sport this year and the driver who trounced the competition in his race victory here in the Spring. Expect the rest of the Stewart-Haas team – Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, and Aric Almirola – to be running in the top 10-15 on Sunday afternoon. Also, watch for Martin Truex Jr. and the two Kyles, Busch and Larson, to make an impact in the Playoffs opener on this mile and a half cookie-cutter.
An event that has served as the regular season finale for the last 14 years, the place known as “The Action Track” becomes race #2 in the first round of the playoffs. With the added pressure for drivers in the playoffs, this race should make for one entertaining short track Saturday night. Kyle Busch, the regular season champion, won here back in May, and generally does extremely well here, with 5 career wins at Richmond alone. Busch’s JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, though, is also a contender, as the Virginia native has 3 wins here and has finished in the top 10 in the last 6 cup races here. Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson will be leading the charge for Chevrolet. As for Ford, expect the Penske trio – Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney – to run competitively near the front of the field.
The biggest wild card of the round (and perhaps of the entire playoffs) is the race that will be run on the infield road course, or “roval”. It is a brand-new idea for this season, and the race itself will likely be a wild and wacky, bumping-and-rubbing fenders kind of race. Kyle Busch won the Coke 600 on the oval on Memorial Day weekend and has won at the other two road courses the series runs on previously. This season, however, Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott are the drivers with the two highest average finishes on road courses, as they won Sonoma and Watkins Glen, respectively, and finished in the top 4 in the other road course event they didn’t win. Truex, Elliott, and Busch will all be ones to watch, although Kyle Larson and Erik Jones will also be competitive. Then again, this race is extremely unpredictable, and perhaps the unexpected should be expected to close out the opening round of the playoffs.
Overall prediction of who’s in/who’s out (in no particular order)
Martin Truex Jr.