The NASCAR Cup Series wrapped up its sixth race at Atlanta Motor Speedway with the sixth different winner in as many races. It marked the first time since 2014 that there have been six different winners to start the season.
This is the first time this has happened since the Cup Series went to the new playoff format, meaning all six winning drivers are locked into the final sixteen. However, winning a race may not prove to be enough this year as it’s possible we have more than 16 winners when the final ten races of the playoffs arrive.
The current winners this season are Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell, William Byron, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Blaney.
The first three winners (McDowell, Bell, and Byron) were all surprises and not favorites to win this season. The latter three (Larson, Truex, and Blaney) were always going to be favorites, but only won a combined two races last year.
That means that many top title contenders have yet to notch their first win of the season. However, drivers Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, and the defending champion Chase Elliott are almost guaranteed to win a race this season.
Hamlin has been the most consistent driver this year that hasn’t won yet and it’s only a matter of time before that happens. The exact same can be said for Logano and Keselowski. Elliott is practically unbeatable on road courses and with five to be raced before the playoffs, he is destined to at least win one or two of those.
That brings our total winning drivers to ten and I haven’t even mentioned some big names yet. Drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, and Kurt Busch all can win a race this year, but each has had their fair share of struggles.
The Busch brothers have both been inconsistent and the same can be said of Bowman. Harvick should be in the obvious contender category, but the Stewart-Haas cars this season have been miserable, which has hurt his performance to this point.
Even though these drivers have had a rough season so far, there’s a chance three of the four of them can manage to win a race this year. Thus, this brings our season total to 13 of the total 16 playoff positions.
The next phase of drivers who may win a race this year is capable of a win but it wouldn’t be highly expected. Drivers Austin Dillon, Cole Custer, Ryan Newman, Chris Buescher, Tyler Reddick, and Bubba Wallace are longshot winner, but are not out of the question.
Dillon and Wallace are always going to be factors at Daytona and Talladega. Buescher, Reddick, and Custer have all had great races already this year and are just a few things going right away to snatch their first win of the season. Newman is experienced and can’t be counted out of winning either, so it’s easy to bet that three of these drivers can pick up a win before the playoffs.
That brings our playoff total to 16 out of 16. Will there be another long-shot driver like McDowell at Daytona? I think it’s safe to say yes to one more, considering we have two more races at superspeedways and five road courses which all can be won by an underdog driver.
That would make a prediction of 17 winners in the Cup series this year come playoff time. That means one unfortunate winner would be losing a playoff spot most likely due to a tiebreaker on points. Who would the remaining 16 drivers be in the playoffs?
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Drivers Prediction
- Denny Hamlin
- Chase Elliott
- Kyle Larson
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Joey Logano
- Brad Keselowski
- Kevin Harvick
- Christopher Bell
- Kyle Busch
- Kurt Busch
- William Byron
- Ryan Blaney
- Michael McDowell
- Austin Dillon
- Cole Custer
- Chris Buescher
The drivers to just miss out on this prediction would be Bubba Wallace, Aric Almirola, and Tyler Reddick. All three drivers are too inconsistent and would fall just short of Buescher; most likely by just a small matter of points.
There are still 20 races of the season still left and a lot of unknowns. As race fans know all so well, anything can happen and we still have a long way to go.