Predicting the Unpredictable Preview and Predictions for the 2022 Nascar Cup Series Playoffs
The Nascar Cup Series playoffs have arrived with the first race being at the Darlington Raceway for the Southern 500. 16 of the 32 full time cup series drivers are in the playoffs and will have a chance to race for the 2022 Cup Series championship. First let us take a look at the drivers who WON’T be racing for the championship these playoffs:
ELIMINATED: Martin Truex Jr, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Bubba Wallace, Kurt Busch, Justin Haley, Chris Buescher, Cole Custer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Michael McDowell, Harrison Burton, Ty Dillon, Todd Gilliland, Corey Lajoie, Cody Ware, Brad Keselowski
This list contains some big names, most notably the 2017 cup series champion Martin Truex Jr. Truex misses the playoffs after being top 5 in points throughout most of the season due to not scoring a win, as well as bad luck with there being 15 different winners and only 16 spots in the field. Another interesting name on this list is 2004 cup champion Kurt Busch. Busch did score a win this season at Kansas, but an unfortunate wreck at Pocono has left him with a concussion and unable to compete in the playoffs. Other notable names include 2012 cup champion Brad Keselowski, who has struggled in his first season as an owner driver for his team RFK racing, and Bubba Wallace, who had a great stretch of races over the summer but could not overcome a rough start to the season.
With all of those names out of the running, we get to the 16 drivers who will be racing for a championship these playoffs:
Austin Dillon: Driving the famous #3 for Richard Childress, Austin Dillon sneaks his way into the playoffs with a clutch win in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. Coming in last place in the playoffs at the moment leaves Dillon with a lot to overcome if he wants to advance to the round of 12.
Alex Bowman: Winning a race all the way back on March 6th at Las Vegas, Alex Bowman had a strong start to the cup season but has cooled down significantly throughout the summer stretch. Still in Hendrick Motorsports equipment, you can never count Bowman the Showman out, but will need to return to early season form if he wants a real shot at a title.
Austin Cindric: Rookie of the year winner Austin Cindric won the first race of the season, the Daytona 500. Driving for Roger Penske, it has been an up and down season for Cindric but has shown the speed to be able to keep up with the leaders in most races.
Daniel Suarez: Monterrey Mexico’s own Daniel Suarez makes his first playoffs with a road course win at Sonoma. Driving for the young organization of Trackhouse racing, it has been a successful season for the former Xfinity series champion. His best chance to win these playoffs looks to be at the Charlotte Roval in a few weeks’ time.
Chase Briscoe: In the #14 Stewart Haas machine is Chase Briscoe. Briscoe won the first race at Phoenix back in March. He is another case of a driver having a strong start but a mediocre middle portion of the season. However, with the championship race being at Phoenix, if he can pull it all together and make the final four, he would have a good shot at winning the whole thing.
Kyle Busch: The most polarizing driver in nascar, “Rowdy” is back in the playoffs once again in the #18 car. This season has not been all sunshine and rainbows for Busch though as he only has 1 win coming into the playoffs coming at the Bristol Dirt race. Another issue for Busch continues to be where he will race next season as his contract with Joe Gibbs racing expires. All these distractions have led to a tail off in speed for Busch as of recent, but you can never count out the former 2 time cup series champion this time of year.
Christopher Bell: Joe Gibbs Racing’s youngest driver Christopher Bell makes his way into the playoffs with a win at New Hampshire. The former truck series champion will look to keep up his consistent speed that he has gained over the summer stretch to boost him in these playoffs.
Kevin Harvick: Long time cup star and 2014 cup champion Kevin Harvick is back in the playoffs after a rough 2021 campaign. Finally breaking his winless streak at Michigan then rattling off another win in the very next race at Richmond, Harvick is riding a wave of momentum heading into the playoffs. The “Closer” will look to close out his resurgent 2022 season with a championship.
Tyler Reddick: The former 2-time Xfinity series champion Tyler Reddick has been a road course ace all season long. His wins coming at Road America and the Indianapolis Road Course, you can never count out Reddick when there are rights and lefts on the track.
Ryan Blaney: Coming in without a win this season is Ryan Blaney. Narrowly beating out Martin Truex Jr for the final playoff spot, Blaney has been the model of consistency all season. The big question for Blaney remains, can he win a race? The playoffs are a win driven time of the season and while finishing up front may get you far, you need a win to drive yourself to the next level.
Denny Hamlin: One of the greatest drivers yet to win a cup championship is Denny Hamlin. Coming into the playoffs with wins at Charlotte and Richmond, Hamlin will look to exorcise the demons that have haunted him this time of year. Another thing that will hold Hamlin back this go round is consistency. He has been boom or bust all year and will need the busts to stop happening or it will be a short playoffs for the future hall of famer.
William Byron: In the famous #24 Hendrick Motorsports machine is William Byron. Byron started the year off looking like a real title contender with wins at Atlanta and Martinsville but a horrid summer stretch has put a damper on what looked to be a breakout season for the young driver. Still though, if he can clean up his act, sky is the limit for the Hendrick wheelman.
Kyle Larson: Defending cup champion Kyle Larson is back in the playoffs again with wins at California and Watkins Glen. Larson has been consistent all season even with backlash from the fanbase saying he has lost speed. While it may not be the 10 wins he had a season ago, Larson still looks to be one of the favorites to take home the title this year.
Ross Chastain: The breakout star of the 2022 campaign is with no doubt, Ross Chastain. Chastain got his first win of his career at Circuit of the Americas then followed that up with another win at Talladega. On top of all of that, he has shown the speed to run up front all season. With rubbing many drivers the wrong way with his aggressive racing style, that and his inexperience make it an uphill climb to come away with the title. However, you can never count out the former watermelon farmer in a big race as there has been magic in that car all season long.
Joey Logano: Flying under the radar all the way to second place in the regular season standing is 2018 cup champion Joey Logano. Winning at Darlington and WWT, Logano has once again proven himself among the elite in the cup series. Having just resigned with Penske as well, Logano and his team look to be a cohesive unit going into the playoffs.
Chase Elliott: Regular season champion and 2020 cup champion Chase Eliiott has been far and away the best driver in the cup series this season. 4 wins, 11 top fives and 18 top tens has put Elliott in a class of his own in a season where parity has become the norm. Elliott is a heavy favorite to walk away with his second title this season.
The Nascar Cup Playoffs can be unpredictable in many ways and you never truly know who could steal a win to advance to the next round. That being said, here is how I think the playoffs will shake out:
Eliminated in the round of 16: Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric
Inconsistency and inexperience knocks these drivers out early. Many got in off a lucky win and just have not had the consistency needed to advance over veteran drivers in the field.
Eliminated in the round of 12: Daniel Suarez, Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, William Byron
Some good drivers get knocked out this round as they can’t put it all together. William Byron can’t find his early season speed, Daniel Suarez can’t out point the guys ahead of him, Christopher Bell doesn’t have enough to beat out more experienced Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch can’t overcome all the distractions marring his team and leaves the playoffs early.
Eliminated in the round of 8: Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick
These talented drivers just run out of steam a bit early. Ryan Blaney can’t crack through for a win, Tyler Reddick runs out of road courses, Denny Hamlin’s inconsistency pops up and costs him, and Ross Chastain’s over aggressiveness causes him to wreck a few cars and that ends his season.
Final four: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott
The cream of the crop make the final four. Kevin Harvick rides his momentum and experience here while Logano and Larson snag some wins to lock their way in. Chase Elliott keeps up his dominant ways to make it all the way to the title race. There can only be one winner of the 2022 cup championship and who will it be?
Championship Winner: Chase Elliott
Not the most exciting or unexpected pick but it is a safe one. Chase Elliott is good if not great at every track in the playoff circuit and has proven he can win a title in the past. Elliot ends his 2022 campaign a 2-time cup champion.