Unless something unforeseen or drastic happens, the “Big 3” will all make the final round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs at the Homestead-Miami Speedway this November. Between them, they’ve won 17 of the 23 races in 2018 and if you take out the restrictor plate races, they’re 20-for-23.
They’re winning 87-percent of the “normal” races.
So, between now and that final race on Nov. 18, I can make a strong case that they will win all but a few races left in the season. So, barring a couple of upset winners in the Round of 8 (Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix) then there’s a strong case that Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. will be among the four drivers vying for this year’s championship in South Florida.
While I can see this year as being redundant to this fan base, it’s not like them being at Homestead is a bad thing. I mean look at the NBA. We’ve seen four straight years of Golden State and Cleveland in the NBA Finals. What about the NFL? In 14 of the last 15 years, the team representing the AFC in the Super Bowl has either been the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers or the Denver Broncos. There are 16 teams in the conference and four teams have made the Super Bowl 14 of the last 15 times. Does that mean the NFL and NBA are boring?
Yes, we know who 75-percent of Championship 4 will be at Homestead, but the fourth spot is wide open. In the NBA up until this year, we knew who was going to be in the NBA Finals. It was Golden State or San Antonio in the west against whatever team LeBron James was playing for. In the NFL, it was either one of the “Big 4” in the AFC against whoever came out of the NFC.
Well in NASCAR, it’s the “Big 3” against a wildcard. To determine that final spot or the rounds to get there, well they can still be exciting. To me, if you turn your focus on who that fourth spot in the final round will be, well we have some interesting storylines.
For the early portions of the year, we thought it was going to possibly be Clint Bowyer. He ended his 190 race winless streak at Martinsville and won again in June at Michigan. But, over the last six weeks, he’s failed to score a single top 10 finish. Does that sound like someone you think can make it to the final round?
Then, we thought Kyle Larson may be the guy. From Bristol in April through Chicagoland in late June, Larson had seven top seven finishes in that 10 race span. Among those top sevens were three runner-up results. But, in that same six race span as Bowyer, Larson has zero top five finishes and has finishes of 29th, ninth, 12th, 23rd, sixth and 17th respectively. Again, does that sound like someone you think could make the Championship 4?
What about Denny Hamlin? He hasn’t scored a top five finish since Charlotte on May 27. Only four of his last 10 finishes have landed inside of the top 10. Would you pick him to be in the final four?
Brad Keselowski may have finished runner-up on Sunday in Michigan but he has just two top five finishes over his last nine races on the season. His teammate Joey Logano hasn’t had a top five finish in 12 races. Between the entire Team Penske bunch, they haven’t won a race that counted outside of Talladega since early April 2017. Do you think any of their three drivers are realistic favorites to make it to Homestead?
Those are six drivers all battling in the same boat with similar results. But, over the last month or two, three new drivers have entered the fray. Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones are likely the top picks to be the fourth drivers in Homestead right now.
Busch, sits fourth in the overall points standings and has scored five straight top 10 finishes in his No. 41 Ford and seven in the last nine races overall. He’s starting to peak.
Elliott, finally won a race two weeks ago in Watkins Glen and heads to Bristol on the heels of four straight top 10 finishes. Jones, finally won a race at Daytona last month and has scored six top seven finishes over his last eight starts on the season in his No. 20 Toyota.
This trio of drivers are going to make it real interesting for that fourth spot at Homestead but what happens if one of those other six drivers get hot? That’s 12 of the 16 drivers that will make the playoffs mentioned. I haven’t even discussed seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson or his teammate Alex Bowman. What about the No. 3 Chevrolet driven by Austin Dillon? What about Aric Almirola?
As you can see, the “Big 3” may be leaps and bounds better than everyone else but the fourth spot is wide open and it’s a fun battle to watch.