After 26 exciting races, NASCAR’s playoffs will begin on Sunday, September 15th, live from Las Vegas, Nevada. The action came down to the 26th and final regular season race before determining the full 16-car field.
Last weekend’s Big Machine Vodka at the Brickyard 400 was an intense battle for a few drivers who were still trying to clinch a postseason birth. Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer came out on the right side of the cutoff line. Unfortunately, Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson did not.
Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR champion, had previously made every NASCAR postseason since 2004, but struggled to be a playoff contender this year. He was involved in a multi-car crash that knocked him from playoff contention in the final stage of the Brickyard 400.
With that said, NASCAR betting sites have released their odds on the playoff field’s chances to win the 2019 Monster Energy Cup Series championship. Let’s take a closer look at the playoff system, the 16-car field, current NASCAR betting odds, and pick the sport’s next champion.
NASCAR’s 16 playoff drivers are ranked based on the playoff points they earned during the regular season, which includes race wins, stage wins, and leading the driver standings. Heading into the postseason, there are six former champions looking for another title:
NASCAR’s first ever playoff system, known as “The Chase for the Championship,” was founded in 2004 and used until 2015. The 2016 season was a mix of old and new rules. In 2017, NASCAR modified the playoff system once again and created the structure that we have today.
The 2019 playoff format is as follows:
The following NASCAR championship betting odds are courtesy of 5Dimes:
These four drivers are considered the odds on favorites to win the 2019 NASCAR championship:
For the second straight year, Kyle Busch finished on top of the driver standings and won the 15 bonus points. He has a large lead and is virtually guaranteed of making it to the next round. Busch was tied with Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. with four wins apiece. However, he hasn’t won in three months.
Last year, in the playoffs, Busch won two races, but finished fourth in the championship race and came up short in his quest to win the title. There are many good tracks for Busch in the final 10 races including Richmond, Phoenix, Dover, and Texas.
In fact, Busch has won at every track in the final 10 races except for the Charlotte road course which was just unveiled last year. Busch was 32nd in that race. Busch’s average finish last postseason was 10.2.
He’s clearly the odds on favorite for this championship and it’s easy to see why. Kyle is going to need to run stronger at Homestead if he wants to collect his second championship.
Kevin Harvick has come on strong over the last seven races. During that span, he won three of those races and finished inside the Top 7 in six of them. A blown clutch at Bristol prevented another strong finish. He ended up fourth in playoff points, but is the second overall favorite.
Last year, Harvick was tied with Busch heading into the playoffs and he snagged his eighth win of the season at Texas, which is the eighth race of the postseason. He also made it to the final race with a shot at the championship, but finished third overall and was unable to bring home the title.
Harvick had an 11.5 average finish in the playoffs. He’s really strong at Texas and Phoenix which are in the third round. One has to question whether or not Harvick can keep the momentum going from the regular season deep into the postseason. Keselowski was in Kevin’s shoes last year and ended up being eliminated after the second round of the playoffs.
Harvick won the title in 2014, but his inconsistency this year does give me cause for concern.
Joey Logano is the reigning NASCAR champion. He made it to Miami-Homestead and was able to win the race as he finished ahead of the other three competitors and they all ended up in the top four spots. In addition to Homestead, Logano also won at Martinsville.
Logano ended up with two wins in 10 playoff races and an average finish of 8.6. He came into the postseason fifth in the standings, fell to sixth at one point before rallying to a championship win.
Currently, Logano is fifth in playoff points with two wins on the season. However, like with Kyle Busch, it’s been over three months since Joey last won. Furthermore, he doesn’t come into these playoffs with a lot of momentum. Logano has finished outside of the Top 10 in six of the last nine races including five of the last six.
Logano did finish second last weekend at Indy. He is one of those steady forces that typically ends up with a Top 5 or Top 10 spot despite not being a dominant car on the track. He will need at least one win to have a shot at repeating as champ.
Fortunately for Logano, he has tracks where he’s won at before like Las Vegas, Richmond, Martinsville, and Homestead-Miami. Can Joey Logano win back-to-back championships?
Last year, Denny Hamlin made the postseason, but was never truly a factor. Hamlin was eliminated after the second round and only led a few laps in three of the 10 final races. In fact, Hamlin didn’t have one victory on the season, which was the first time since his rookie year that he went winless.
This year, Hamlin has more than made up for the 2018 season. Denny is tied for the series lead with four wins and sits second in playoff points. He’s practically guaranteed advancing to the second round where he made it to last year. However, I think this postseason will be a different story.
In the final eight races of the 2019 regular season, Hamlin had six Top 5 finishes and two victories. For the playoff races, Hamlin has multiple wins at Richmond, Martinsville, Texas and Homestead. If he can snag a win at one of those tracks in the second or third rounds, then Hamlin could be racing for a title at Miami.
Hamlin has yet to win a NASCAR championship. He’s one of those drivers that’s extra hungry for a championship victory.
These three drivers can go far into the playoffs, but will they have enough points to advance to the championship race?
Brad Keselowski won his only NASCAR championship back in 2012. He had a lot of momentum heading into the playoffs last year and looked like a contender for the title. Brad won three straight races, including the first postseason race in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, it quickly went downhill after that.
Keselowski ended up being eliminated after the second round and blew a great shot at his second championship. This year, Keselowski won three races and comes into the playoffs as the sixth seed. Unfortunately, Brad hasn’t won in 15 races. And he crashed out of last weekend’s race at Indy.
Keselowski is one of the drivers I feel could sneak into the championship race if he can get at least one win in the playoffs. He’s run really well at Las Vegas, Talladega, and Kansas over his career. However, he does have a few tracks where he’s never won at like Phoenix.
Brad’s best shot at making a championship run is a win at Talladega or Kansas where he will automatically advance to the next round.
Here’s my sleeper for the playoffs. I understand that his odds aren’t like the next section of drivers, but nobody is talking about Truex. He’s the one driver at Joe Gibbs Racing that has been forgotten, yet he’s won four races this year and is the 2017 NASCAR champ.
Last year, Truex finished second at Miami and was just one spot from being a two-time, back-to-back champion as Logano edged him out. Truex entered last season’s playoffs in the third position. He easily moved on to the second round where a fifth place in Kansas helped him move on to the third round.
In that round, he had three Top 15 finishes and made it to the championship. Truex didn’t win one playoff race last year. Truex will be third again to start the postseason and proved he can make it to Homestead without winning a postseason race. All he needs is a few strong runs in the second and third rounds.
Fortunately for Truex, the second round features Dover, where he has three wins, and Kansas, where he has two wins. The third round features three races where he hasn’t won. But Texas could be the key in the third round, as he has fifteen Top 10 finishes at the track.
Truex hasn’t won in 11 races, not since Sonoma, but he does have the knack for turning things on in the postseason, and I expect him to fill in one of those final four spots for the championship race at Homestead.
The following playoff drivers offer some betting value based on their current championship odds, 2019 season so far, and potential finishes in the final 10 races. However, they do come at a risk.
Last year, Elliott entered the playoffs in eighth and won two races. He stormed into the third round looking like a real contender to make the Final 4. Unfortunately, he fell flat and ended up being eliminated after the round.
This year, Elliott is seventh in the standings and has already won two races on the season. He has four Top 10s in the last five races including a win at Watkins Glen. With that said, Elliott’s best chances to advance to the championship race are to win a race in the first two rounds and hope for Top 5 finishes at all three tracks in the third round.
Elliott has never won at any of the final four postseason races on the schedule. But if any young driver can break through this ceiling of veterans, it’s Chase Elliott.
Larson was 12th in the 2018 playoffs and comes in 11th this year. He made it to the second round of the playoffs, but failed to advance to the third round. Larson has a lot of momentum heading into this postseason, but he needs wins and not just Top 10 finishes.
For Larson, he only has five wins in his career. And of those five wins, only one of them was at a track that will be in the 10 postseason races—Richmond. It’s going to be tough sledding for one of my favorite drivers, but his odds are appealing if you want to take the risk.
Erik Jones was 10th last year when he started the playoffs and he’s 10th this year as well. Jones captured a win at Darlington two races ago in fantastic fashion. Unfortunately, he’s never won at any of the tracks in the playoffs. Last year, he was eliminated after the first round.
This year, Jones looks like a much better driver, and being on the Joe Gibbs Racing team certainly helps. However, I find it hard to pick Jones to make it to the championship race. He will be lucky to even make it to the third round.
Kurt Busch won the 2004 championship, but hasn’t finished higher than fourth since 2009. Last year, he entered the postseason in seventh and was eliminated after the third round. This year, I can see Kurt repeating that performance unless he can win at one of the three third-round races.
Fortunately for Kurt, he has won at all three tracks in his career with two wins at Martinsville and one win apiece at Texas and Phoenix. With that said, Busch will need some strong racing to get to the third round as he’s finished outside of the Top 14 in four of the last eight races since winning at Kentucky.
I like Busch’s odds considering he’s a former champ and has won at just about every track in the playoffs. He will need consistency over the next six to eight races in order to have any shot at making it to Homestead for a chance at the championship.
These drivers need multiple wins to have any chance at making it to the championship race, let alone win it.
Blaney entered the postseason in 12th place this year, which is down from his ninth place start in the playoffs last year. Blaney made it to the second round, but was eliminated at the end of the round. Ryan did win at Charlotte last postseason, which advanced him to the next round before getting eliminated.
That was the second win of his career, which doesn’t bode well for the young driver against the veterans at these other tracks. I like Blaney’s consistency over the last two seasons, but I find it hard to believe he will make it past the second round this year. In fact, he could be eliminated after the first round.
Bowman scored his first career win this season when he captured the checkered flag at Chicago. It helped earn him the ninth spot in the playoffs this year. That’s a dramatic improvement over last year’s 16th spot.
During the 2018 playoffs, Bowman made it to the second round, but had two finishes outside the Top 25 and was eliminated at the end of the round. I believe that’s where he will be eliminated again. Bowman has never won at any of these tracks, and he’s just not strong enough to beat the top drivers. Give the kid a few more years before he really contends.
Byron was not in the playoffs last season and qualified 13th this year. In his two years at the top circuit of NASCAR, Byron has never won a race. Last year, his best finish among playoff races was ninth at Phoenix. Unfortunately, he will be eliminated way before then.
Byron is a likely candidate to get eliminated after the first round. However, this is great experience for the 22-year-old driver.
This wily veteran has been my longshot pick for roughly two dozen races this year. Although he didn’t win a race, Newman still earned a playoff seed as he squeaked in with the final spot. Newman’s best season was in 2003 when he won eight races.
As far as championships go, Newman was second in 2014, but didn’t win a race that season. In fact, he’s only won one race in the last six seasons if you include 2019 so far. With that said, Newman pretty much needs a win in each round to advance.
As much as I would like to see Newman pull off this feat, it’s not going to happen. He will most likely be eliminated after the first round.
Entered the playoffs last year as the 14th seed, but he made it all the way to the third round before being eliminated. His victory at Talladega in the second round was crucial to advancing to the third round. This year, Almirola is 14th once again, but I don’t see him getting as lucky two years in a row.
There’s just too much talent this year for Almirola to sneak through the first two rounds. He will be lucky to even make it to the second round this year. Almirola only had one Top 5 on the year and he’s been on the outside of the Top 10 looking in for most of the season.
Bowyer’s 2019 campaign has been a letdown compared to his 2018 season when he entered the playoffs in the fifth seed and won two races on the year. Bowyer made it to the third round before being eliminated.
Although Bowyer is a playoff driver, it took him until the final race of the regular season to capture a spot. He had a poor showing in half of the regular season races with only 12 Top 10s so far. Like the other drivers in this section, Bowyer needs wins to move on, and I don’t see it happening.
Bowyer is a savvy veteran, but he only has two wins in the last seven seasons if you count this year. That’s not nearly enough to compete with betting favorites. He will be lucky to make it to the second round.
I think Joe Gibbs Racing is going to be celebrating at the end of the season, as one of the team’s four playoff drivers will win the championship. Let’s start with the final eight drivers that I believe will make it to the third round: both Busch brothers, Harvick, Logano, Keselowski, Hamlin, Truex, and Elliott.
From that list of eight, I believe the final four drivers will be Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick. I wouldn’t be surprised if Joey Logano knocks out one of those four. Keep in mind, we’re predicting what will happen two months from now.
With that said, it’s time for Kyle Busch to reestablish himself as the top dog of the sport. I believe he’s going to recapture his early season form this year and win at least one race in the postseason. From there, I expect Busch to outlast his teammates and Harvick or Logano for the championship win at Homestead.
Buckle up and enjoy, because this is going to be a thrilling NASCAR postseason.
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