It’s amazing how much has changed in all the many years since I started following NASCAR as a kid back in the late 1960s and ’70s. Thankfully, the racing is much safer. Can I hear a “Hallelujah” that we get live races every week?
But one curious development is that back in the day, finishing in 16th place in points meant you were probably looking for a new ride next year. Now if you hit that 16th spot, you are anointed as a “racing god” by NASCAR and have your points reset with a chance to win the championship. Since this was a creation of Brian France, who the sport has completely divested itself from for obvious reasons, I wonder if we could lose this playoff thing someday.
Let’s take a look at the Power Rankings headed into the NASCAR Chase, I mean playoffs.
- Kevin Harvick – Only one driver finished the 26-race regular season with more than 20 top-10 finishes. Only one driver finished with more than 15 top-five finishes. Only one driver led more than 1,000 laps. That driver is still number one!
- Denny Hamlin – Only one driver other than Harvick had 15 top-five finishes during the regular season. Only one driver other than Harvick won more than three races. Only one driver is still the best driver in NASCAR history not to win a NASCAR Cup Series championship. That driver is still number two!
- Martin Truex Jr. – Only one driver has had eight consecutive top-five finishes entering the playoffs. That includes the top two guys. But because that string includes zero wins, Truex comes in at number three this week.
- Brad Keselowski – Bad Brad has been so lucky, there is no doubt who has possession of Jimmie’s old golden horseshoe right now. This is a guy who understands how the Chase, I mean playoffs, work, and he should be in the Round of 8 for sure.
- Chase Elliott – Winning races and championships is in this guy’s DNA. Elliott has finished top six in half of his seasons, and this could be the year he puts it altogether and that Siiii-reeen wails for more than just a race win.
- Kyle Busch – How can Rowdy go the entire regular season of 26 races without a win? 2020 has been one of the more perplexing years, and that is the only reason that makes sense to me. But we have seen this guy peak at the right time twice before.
- Joey Logano – Only five drivers won more than one race during the regular season. It has been a long time since race four of the season when Logano got his second win though. Although his recent six-race top-10 streak shows he is capable of winning it all again.
- Aric Almirola – Not many drivers have been able to reel off a top-10 streak nine races in a row this year, but he is one of them. However, Almirola has failed to win this year, and eight drivers have more top-five finishes than he has been able to accumulate this year.
- Ryan Blaney – It’s very hard to call a guy who has made the playoffs four years in a row an “underachiever,” but this young man has so much talent how can he only win one race a year? His lack of consistency is shown by having only 11 top-10 finishes through the opening 26 races.
- William Byron – Did you know that William got his start in iRacing? Did you know he is the first driver to get a win at Daytona in Cup that got his start in iRacing? Not even champions like Red Byron, David Pearson or Dale Earnhardt can say that!
- Alex Bowman – Bowman the Showman finally scored consecutive top 10s this season. Why is that so important? Because heading into the Chase, I mean playoffs. Can he continue that trend or will he stub his toe in the playoffs?
- Clint Bowyer – After the top 10 in Power Rankings, the talent level heading into the Chase, I mean playoffs, drops off considerably. Bowyer has managed to fade badly and found every reason to lose positions at the end of races this season, that it would be a longshot to make it past the first round.
- Cole Custer – The undisputed Rookie of the Year for 2020 has hit a rough patch heading into the final 10 races of the season. Darlington Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway were tough on the kid the first time around too.
- Kurt Busch – This year, more than any other in NASCAR playoff history, it appears that forecasting the first four to leave the playoffs is easier than ever. One of the top contenders for that list has to be the elder Busch brother.
- Matt DiBendetto – It was all on the line for Guido to bring the Wood Brothers into the playoffs for the first time in three years and only the second time in team history. If you weren’t rooting for that No. 21 car to make the playoffs shame on you.
- Tyler Reddick – Some of you Austin Dillon fans are probably saying, “Hey, why is the rookie at RCR in the Power Rankings and not Austin? The No. 3 car made the playoffs.” The rookie has been such a surprise this year he deserves some recognition, even without a playoff spot.