The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff field is set with drivers now hitting the reset button after the regular season and their sights set on winning a title. Unlike last year when the “Big 3” of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. dominated the year and were the prohibitive favorites to win the championship — of course until Joey Logano came along — there‘s a little more of a wide open feel to this year‘s playoff run.
However, that‘s not to say there aren‘t still drivers who have a better than average chance of going deep into the playoff rounds. While Busch, Harvick and Truex Jr. might not be quite as strong this year as they were in 2018, that trio will be formidable. Another Joe Gibbs Racing driver should also be in the picture as Denny Hamlin comes into the post-season off a very impressive stretch to end the regular campaign.
The playoff schedule went through a renovation last year with a new look when several tracks were shifted around and Charlotte Motor Speedway added its road course to the mix to spice things up even further. The same 10 tracks comprise this year‘s playoff slate but the same challenges will be in place.
When it all comes to a crescendo a quartet of drivers will make it to Ford Championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway and a chance to win it all in the season-ending Ford 400. Here‘s the path that will lead those four drivers to an opportunity to win the title on Sunday, November 17:
2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Drivers:
1) #18 Kyle Busch — 2,045
2) #11 Denny Hamlin — 2,030
3) #19 Martin Truex Jr. — 2,029
4) #4 Kevin Harvick — 2,028
5) #22 Joey Logano — 2,028
6) #2 Brad Keselowski — 2,022
7) #9 Chase Elliott — 2,019
8) #1 Kurt Busch — 2,011
9) #88 Alex Bowman — 2,005
10) #20 Erik Jones — 2,005
11) #42 Kyle Larson — 2,005
12) #12 Ryan Blaney — 2,004
13) #24 William Byron — 2,001
14) #10 Aric Almirola — 2,001
15) #14 Clint Bowyer — 2,000
16) #6 Ryan Newman — 2,000
Round of 16
Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway, Charlotte Road Course
The Playoff opener in Las Vegas last season was wild affair run in extremely hot temperatures, which added to the slipping and sliding around the 1.5-mile track. The race will shift back to a later start time in hopes of better avoiding the heat; whether the changing track conditions impact the racing differently is now a question. Under the lights at Richmond and then the Roval, which created controversy and havoc in its 2018 debut give this opening round a distinct flavor. Four drivers won‘t make the cut after the checkered flag waves in Charlotte: Newman, Byron, Almirola and Bowman.
Round of 12
Dover Int‘l Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Kansas Speedway
The hole in the middle of this donut is Talladega and the unpredictable nature of superspeedway racing. It puts more an emphasis on trying to win at Dover to open the round and eliminate the pressure of having to perform well at ‘Dega. But don‘t discount Kansas as the closing stop in the round, which has produced its share of nuttiness over the years. The quartet eliminated after Kansas: Bowyer, Jones, Blaney and Kurt Busch.
Round of 8
Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, ISM Raceway
The opening stop at Martinsville created the biggest fireworks of the entire playoff schedule last year when Logano made contact with Truex Jr. in the final turn of the last lap to win and advance. If those two make it this far and are anywhere near each other there will be intrigue and possible fireworks. Texas has been relatively calm this year and the spring race was a challenge for drivers trying to get the handle of this year‘s rules package. ISM Raceway moves into the final slot of the year in 2020 and will host the penultimate race for the last time in November. Four will be left high and dry in the desert: Elliott, Logano, Keselowski and Larson get left behind.
Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Truex Jr. and Harvick will have the spotlight as they battle for the crown and when the checkered flag flies it will be Hamlin book ending the season with a Daytona 500 win and a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.