A couple of years ago drivers Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. were dubbed the “Big Three” for much of the season as those pilots and their teams dominated the NASCAR Cup Series. Now, in this oddly disjointed 2020 campaign, the question isn’t so much who the “Big Three” are, but rather, who will be the “Other Two”.
Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin have been so strong throughout the first 26 races of the season that it would almost seem inconceivable that both will not be a part of the ‘Championship 4’ at Phoenix Raceway on November 8th.
Harvick currently leads the series standings along with having seven victories. But perhaps more important in the grand scheme of things as the tour heads into its opening round of the NASCAR Playoffs this weekend is the fact the the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has amassed 57 playoff points with his stage wins, race wins, and regular season championship. With those numbers in his favor, it would be difficult to image the No. 4 Ford team not making it at least as far as the semi-final round of the NASCAR Playoffs.
Hamlin currently occupies the second position in the standings with six wins to his credit. And the Joe Gibbs Racing driver trails only Harvick in terms of playoff points with a total of 47 in his column. The next closest driver in those rankings is fully 18 points behind the No. 11 Toyota. So like Harvick, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario in which Hamlin would not be involved in at least the semi-final round.
And to the dismay of the competition, these two enter the playoffs relatively hot as they shared victory lane in the two races held at Dover International Speedway prior to this past weekend’s pack racing event at Daytona.
So who could potentially pose the greatest threat to these dominant racers and possibly steal the NASCAR Cup Series title?
Brad Keselowski now ranks third in the overall standings with three wins in his column with one of those triumphs coming as recently early August in New Hampshire. The No. 2 Team Penske Ford also had 29 playoff points when the regular season closed. That will give him an advantage over the others who hope to challenge the top-two going into the ten-race dash to the end.
Martin Truex Jr. was recently in the midst of a streak that saw him earn seven consecutive top-3 finishes which was then followed by a fourth coming in the most recent race at Daytona. While he has only one win in 2020, the driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has championship experience as the 2017 title winner. Seemingly, it would take only a slight improvement to turn those top-3 results into victories, and if that happens, he would emerge as a serious threat.
Joey Logano has two wins and is fourth in the standings. But perhaps more importantly, he was the driver who stole the thunder from the ‘Big Three’ back in 2018. Chase Elliott has two wins and 20 playoff points and there is one road course within the final ten races which bodes well for him.
But perhaps most dangerous to the two favorites, defending champion Kyle Busch can’t remain in his current slump forever. For reference, remember back to 2011 when Tony Stewart entered the Chase with no wins then went on a run that saw him earn five victories over the final ten races then beat out Carl Edwards in the series finale. Or, just think back to last season when Busch himself won four races during the first half of the season then did not visit victory lane again until the championship-deciding finale at Homestead.
But ultimately, will it really matter who it is?
Harvick and Hamlin appear to be so dominant that the “Other Two” may simply serve as decoration for their coronation party. But then again, that’s why they run all the races. However, my pick is that both Harvick and Hamlin will go to south Florida with a chance to win the title, and one of them will in fact do just that.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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