Fenton, MI — September 2, 2020
With the NASCAR Playoff Field of 16 drivers set, the next 10 races will determine who is to be crowned the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Champion. Eight of those drivers compete in Ford Mustangs from three teams. What are their chances, how do they stack up against the competition, who will advance round by round?
NASCAR’s Playoff Format
The key to NASCAR’s Playoff format is, “you win, you’re in.” Drivers compete for points all through the regular season. Position points and Playoff points. Score a race win and you automatically qualify for the playoffs, plus you get five playoff points. Win a Stage during a regular-season race and get one playoff point.
Regular season points are used to determine the regular season Champion. Ford driver Kevin Harvick earned that recognition this year. Regular season points also determine who makes it into the postseason if there are not 16 different winners. Five cars qualified for the playoffs this year based on points alone. Including defending Cup Champion Kyle Busch, who was winless during the regular season.
The advantage of playoff points is that they carry on into the postseason and refresh every round of the playoffs. This places the emphasis on winning and the advantage is significant. Harvick and Hamlin start the playoffs with 57 and 47 extra points respectively. The same advantage caries on into each of the next two rounds of the playoffs.
|6||Martin Truex Jr.||2014|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Austin Dillon summed up the importance of the points system in the playoffs. “When you are sitting at the end of a Stage, or the end of a race with a point sitting right in front of you, you gotta do what it takes to get that point. You can’t ride, you gotta use the front bumper to get it or do whatever it takes to get it.” That makes for exciting racing.
The 10 races that make up the playoffs are divided into three rounds of three races and the final Championship race. After each round of the playoffs, four drivers are eliminated. The same “win and your in” format remains, as a victory in any round automatically advances you to the next. Points are awarded the same as during the regular season, Stage points and finishing position points are added to playoff points earned to determine who advances and who is eliminated.
All playoff drivers remaining start at the front of the field, with starting positions determined by the calculation NASCAR put into place late in the season.
Darlington Raceway, Richmond Raceway, and Bristol Motor Speedway host the first round, or the round of 16.
Ford Mustang Driver Chances: Ford Performance will likely loose its first driver in this round. Cole Custer will have a difficult time advancing out of Round 1, a win put him in the playoffs but he has not run with enough consistency to move forward.
Look for Matt DiBenedetto to be the surprise of the first round. He enters the postseason in 16th with no playoff points. But, he runs well at these tracks and a strong run at Bristol will push him forward.
First Round Casualties: In addition to Cole Custer, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, and Austin Dillon are the most vulnerable to exiting after Bristol.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, and the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway make up Round 2. This may be the most difficult round to predict with two wildcards, Talladega and the Roval, capable of scrambling the standings in the round of 12.
Ford Mustang Driver Chances: Matt DiBenedetto, Clint Bowyer, and Ryan Blaney could be in trouble during this round. However, the wildcard tracks could eliminate a favorite if they have trouble on back to back weeks. Look for Blaney to move on.
Second Round Casualties: Look for Kyle Busch to exit before the round of 8 if his current season losing streak extends. William Byron’s run should also end here, it will be difficult to extend his momentum from the Daytona win past this round.
Kansas Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, and Martinsville Speedway are the three tracks to host Round 3. Nothing super scary here, Martinsville makes for a great cutoff race. Cars can beat and bang all day and the winner may look like he has come through a war of attrition.
Ford Mustang Driver Chances: Spots are running out and this round is more about who is going to advance to the final at Phoenix. Kevin Harvick is the favorite to capture one of the four positions, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski will fight it out for the last spot. Aric Almirola’s great year doesn’t produce a win and he drops out of contention.
Second Round Casualties: Along with Almirola, Blaney can’t extend his run, Keselowski just misses, and Martin Truex Jr. knocks out Chase Elliott.
The Cup Series Final
Phoenix will welcome Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., and Joey Logano as the four eligible to win the Cup Series Championship. Given how well Harvick has run at the track in the desert, he is the prohibitive favorite.
While Denny Hamlin is the only one of the four drivers to have not won a Cup Championship, he may be the sentimental favorite. Expect Harvick to showcase his driving ability and the Ford dominance from 2020 to win out in the end.