The Chase for the first ever Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship is finally upon us. The final spots were secured last weekend at Richmond, where Kyle Larson got the win. The chase starts this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.
For those who have never watched the NASCAR “playoffs” before, I’ll explain it to the best of my ability. The Chase takes place over the final 10 races of the NASCAR season. 16 drivers are in the Chase for the championship. Those 16 drivers are listed in the picture below. So after every three races in the Chase, the bottom 4 drivers in points get eliminated. If a driver wins a race in the
Chase, they are automatically inserted into the next round of the Chase. After the 9th of 10 races are completed, 4 drivers remain eligible for the championship. The final race of the season takes place at Homestead-Miami Raceway, and the highest finisher of the four remaining drivers is crowned the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.
The first round of the chase includes races from Chicagoland, New Hampshire, and Dover. So there is a wide variety of tracks over the course of the first round. In my mind, the drivers going into the chase with the most momentum are Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. Larson is coming off a great win at Richmond, which was his first win on a non-mile and a half track. So that is a huge confidence boost for him. It was an unusually slow start to the season for Kyle Busch as it took him until the end of July to get his first win. But since then, he has been on a tear, with quality finish after quality finish. So he is definitely a force to be reckoned with during the playoffs. But, I believe that Martin Truex Jr. has the most momentum coming into the playoffs. He just collected his trophy for the regular season championship. Truex has been in a position to win so many races this season, so there is no surprise that he won the regular season championship. Going into the Chase, Truex has 4 wins and 10 top-five finishes. So definitely look for Truex to make a deep run into the Chase.
And since I’m here, I’d like to make a few predictions before the Chase starts, because I do love a good “I told you so.” So with that
being said, I’m going to start by predicting a surprise, or “dark-horse” driver going into the Chase. My dark-horse driver going into the Chase is Chase Elliot (fitting isn’t it?). I’m not saying that Chase Elliot is going to win the championship, but I can see him making it to the third round, and maybe even squeak into the final four, but that’s a bit ambitious. And he can be considered a dark-horse because he comes into the Chase as the 10th seed, and he doesn’t even have a win on the season. I honestly think he is going to win a race during the Chase, but will he still be eligible to win the championship when he gets that win? Who knows. But, Chase Elliot is my pick to be the surprise driver to make some noise this postseason.
Also, I’m going to place my bet for who the final four and champion will be. I am almost willing to say 100% that Martin Truex Jr and Kyle Larson will be in the final four. I’m also fairly confident in saying that Kyle Busch will also be in the
final round. The fourth driver is a huge question mark for me. Busch, Larson, and Truex have been at the top all season. But I’m going to go with my gut feeling on the fourth driver in the final round, so I’m going with Denny Hamlin. Hamlin also had a slow start to the season, but he has been upfront fairly often lately. That’s my final four predictions. My prediction for who will win the championship is Kyle Larson. Larson will make the final four, and he has finished in the top 5 the last two races at Homestead, including a 5th place finish 2 years ago and a 2nd place finish last year. So my bold prediction for Homestead is that Kyle Larson will not only win the championship, but he’s going to win the race too.