NASCAR Playoff Preview
In a year where anything and everything has happened, the NASCAR playoffs are starting up this Sunday. The field of 16 will look to continue the chaos with the first race of the round of 16 at Darlington.
This NASCAR season has been nothing short of crazy with 13 different winners and the first seven races this year started out with seven different winners as well. In NASCAR, if a driver wins a race they automatically qualify for the playoffs, so you can see where the drama is coming from with 13 different winners this season.
However, the playoffs for NASCAR do require luck and even the regular-season champion in past years has had trouble winning the championship. Just look at Kevin Harvick who had nine wins last year and was the regular-season champion and was not even able to make it to the final round at Phoenix for the championship.
Before a champion can be crowned, the drivers will have to go through three separate rounds that include tracks that are superspeedways, mile and a half, short tracks and the notorious roval in Charlotte.
There are 16 drivers in the playoff field. Let’s take a look at the tracks in each round and some drivers that will have a good shot at advancing in each round with the tracks to be raced on.
In the round of 16, the races start at Darlington where Martin Truex Jr. has already won this year. The rest of the round will be raced at Richmond and Bristol. These are three very hard tracks for drivers to make it through without making mistakes. Naturally, anything can happen in this round with the last two races being short tracks.
Look for the guys towards the top of the points standings like Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott to be contenders at each track but not risking wrecking out of a race in this round that could take drivers out of the playoffs fast. Drivers at the bottom of the standings like Tyler Reddick, Michael McDowell, Aric Almirola and Christopher Bell will all have a difficult time making it out of this round.
The round of 12 is where champions are made and broken in the NASCAR playoffs. Drivers are thrown a relative softball in the first race of Las Vegas, then expected to race at Talladega where anyone in the race can and will compete for a win.
If that's not hard enough, they will have to race at the road course-oval at Charlotte motor speedway for the cutoff race into the next round. With the last two races in this round being as hectic as they are it turns the Las Vegas race into an almost must win situation to not feel the pressure at Talladega and the roval.
Just about anyone can guess who can make it through this round, but your safe picks are the guys who excel at the road courses. Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson should feel the safest in this because they both won most of the road course this year and are very fast cars at the other two tracks. Drivers Kurt Busch, William Byron, Brad Keselowski and a surprise in Denny Hamlin might find themselves in troubled waters.
The penultimate round in the playoffs consists of two races that are mile and a half tracks and a short track in Martinsville. The remaining eight drivers will all excel at these kinds of tracks but it will make Martinsville a very exciting last race to see who moves on at a track where bumping fenders is the name of the race.
Following this round, expect the final four heading into Phoenix to be Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson all fighting for the championship.
Phoenix is a very tricky track for the championship race to be held at and it is very hard to not think Chase Elliott will win there after last year's championship performance. But last year there was no Kyle Larson to race against Elliott.
Larson has dominated the whole year with five wins, he finds ways to win when he needs to and is not afraid of a challenge. The only thing we have not seen from Larson is how he responds to adversity in the car this year. This could deter this playoff run, but his car has been faster than others this year. When it's not, he still finds ways to win, which bodes well in his favor to be the 2021 NASCAR champion this year.
Dale Ostrander is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.