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Late predictions for unpredictable NASCAR playoffs

during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 21, 2018 in Kansas City, Kansas.

The first two rounds of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs were full of surprises. Surprises or no, eight drivers remain in play for this season’s championship as the series heads into round three Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway

Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin out in the first round? Okay sure, this season has been a struggle for both drivers. Still, I expected both of them to get past the first round. Maybe it was just hard for me to block out the fact that these two drivers are traditionally top-tier drivers on top-tier teams. And Kyle Busch sure hasn’t struggled in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment this year. Hamlin has, though. Also, it’s hard to count out a seven-time champion, with that record-tying title coming just a couple of seasons ago, even after a year-and-a-half of struggle.

Admittedly, though, I did have Hamlin and Johnson out after the round of 12. I was close on that one, I guess.

I also didn’t expect half of the final eight to come from the Stewart-Haas Racing camp. Boy, Aric Almirola sure was a surprise in the round of 12. No, I’m not surprised that he has won in SHR equipment, and he did nearly win the Daytona 500 back in February. I guess I just didn’t expect him to be one of only two race winners in round two, for some reason. I don’t really know why.

Sure, Stewart-Haas has been strong this season. After all, heading into the playoffs, Almirola was the only one of its three drivers without a win in the regular season. The SHR threesome of Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch combined for 10 wins in the 26-race regular season, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I guess it’s just hard for me to imagine one team claiming half of the eight existing playoff spots. I guess I don’t have to imagine it anymore, though, do i?

Then, there’s Chase Elliott, not Brad Keselowski. After Keselowski closed out the regular season with wins in the final two and began the playoffs with a third-straight win, I was sure he was THE driver to challenge the “Big 3” of Harvick, Busch and Martin Truex Jr. He’s kinda fizzled out in the races since then, though. Hasn’t he? Of course he has; he didn’t even make it out of the round of 12. Now, Elliott is looking to be serious competition for the aforementioned “Big 3.”

And speaking of the “Big 3,” I’m not sure about those three guys anymore, or at least not Truex, anyway. He seems to have lost that sparkle. Maybe Furniture Row Racing’s closure at season’s end is a distraction. That’s very understandable. I just thought these guys were the guys to overcome that sort of distraction. Maybe not. Well, at least they’re still in it. That’s more than what half of the 16 teams that started the 2018 playoffs can say now. So, there’s that.

Actually, the “Big 3,” as a group, hasn’t been up to the level of its earlier dominance as of late. But I think they’ll all be among the four vying for the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway next month. At least, with the reset, they’re back up to the top-three heading into Sunday’s round-three opener at Martinsville, thanks to the playoff points they accumulated throughout the seasons when they were winning stages and races on a, seemingly, weekly basis

I’m going with the drivers in the top-four of the standings, heading into Sunday’s race, to be the four in the championship battle at Homestead. Seems like I’m taking the easy way out when put that simply, doesn’t it? But think about it. We’re talking the “Big 3” and Elliott, the driver who has won two of the last three and three of the last 11 races.

For the championship — and here’s where I’m going out on a limb — Elliott. I felt the need to go out on a limb somewhere in these predictions, and there you have it. After all, this is a “what have you done for me lately” world and Elliott has definitely been doing it lately.

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Posted by on October 27, 2018. Filed under Blog by Amanda Vincent,Featured,Monster Energy NASCAR Cup,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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