Kurt Busch recently admitted that he feels as if the “Other Five” drivers are racing for one position in the final round of the NASCAR Playoffs. Throughout the 2018 season drivers Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. have dominated as those three competitors have collected a total of 18 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories and currently occupy the top-three positions in the series standings.
And more than just winning races and leading the standings, the so-called “Big-Three” have accumulated so many playoff points during the year-long campaign that they hold a significant lead over their competition in the standings.
Kyle Busch is the points leader among the eight drivers who remain in contention as the Cup Series heads into the set of three races that will serve to narrow the field down to the four drivers who will race for the overall championship in the final race of the 2018 season at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 18th. Harvick and Truex are placed second and third in the standings going into the round that will feature races at Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, and ISM Raceway(Phoenix).
A look at the standings shows that Kurt Busch’s concerns may be legitimate as Kyle Busch holds a lead of a single point over Harvick and 17 markers ahead of Truex. But the separation to fourth place Chase Elliott shows a gap of 20 points between Truex and Elliott. That’s a significant margin for the top-three drivers over the field, and seemingly, it appears as if the path has been paved for their entry into the final race as title contenders.
However, the reality is that under the current system no lead in points provides a guarantee of advancement to the next round in the playoffs. Keep in mind that a win during a particular round assures that driver a place in the next round.
Should the next three races be won by those “other” drivers, that would leave only one spot for the big-three at Homestead-Miami. And the possibility of that very scenario playing out is not at all impossible.
The last win by one of the Big-Three was by Kyle Busch at Richmond over a month ago. Prior to that, it was all the way back on August 12th at Michigan when Kevin Harvick last pulled into victory lane. Truex’s last triumph came at Kentucky in July.
On the other hand, there is reason to believe that the “Other Five” of Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola could score wins over the next three weeks.
Elliott has gotten red hot of late earning two wins over the past three weeks and three wins since August. The son of NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bill Elliott has clearly emerged as the star many have anticipated since his arrival at the sport’s top level and there is little reason to believe that he isn’t in contention for the big trophy at the end of the year.
Bowyer could assure his entry into the final round if he can find a way to repeat his performance at Martinsville back in March when he dominated the second half of that 500-lap event on his way to collecting a grandfather clock.
Kurt Busch has shown considerable speed of late. He has scored to poles over the last four weeks and has run at or near the front in recent races. The older of the two Busch brothers has won races on each of the three tracks that make up this round of the playoffs over the course of a career that saw win a championship back in 2004.
Logano is in the midst of a streak that has seen the No. 22 Ford score four consecutive top-10 results. The driver once known as ‘Sliced Bread’ has recorded eight top-10s over the course of the last ten races.
Almirola recorded the second win of his career at Talladega to assure himself a place in the ‘Round of 8’. While the driver of the No. 10 car might seem the least likely of the eight to advance, he does compete for powerful Stewart-Haas Racing which has shown the capability of producing wins for their drivers.
One thing that does have to be considered is that wins by those who are not still alive in the playoffs work in the favor of the Kyle Busch, Harvick and Truex. Every time one of the “Other Five” doesn’t win it erases a chance for those drivers to gain an automatic invitation to Homestead and causes them to have to erase the big points lead held by the top-3 runners.
Going into the final four races remaining on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule the “Big-Three” have to be considered as favorites and their advantage in the points cannot be ignored. But recent performances by those drivers and the others who remain alive in the playoffs indicate that the others very much have a shot at unseating those who earlier in the year looked like certain title favorites.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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