Why the Top 4 in the NASCAR Playoffs Standings Heading to Texas Will Be the Championship 4
Chances are good those names will be the same when the series heads to Phoenix Raceway in November for the race to decide the championship.
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season has been wildly unpredictable
The 2022 season has been as wild as any in NASCAR history. The 19 different winners tie 2001 for the modern era (since 1972) record for most in a season, and this is the first time at least 16 different drivers won a race in the regular season since the sport instituted a playoff format in 2004.
The parity of the Next Gen car’s first year didn’t stop in the postseason, either. Each of the three races in the Round of 16 had winners who were not in the 16-driver playoff field.
Erik Jones took the No. 43 car to Victory Lane for its first visit in more than eight years in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Bubba Wallace won his second career race the following week at Kansas Speedway. And Chris Buescher notched his second career win Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Those drivers had a combined four wins before the playoffs began, and they each beat a field that includes drivers with a combined eight Cup Series championships on their collective resume.
The top of the playoff field should remain constant as the postseason rolls along
Still, the top four in the playoff standings to begin the second round should be the favorites to be the four in contention for the title at Phoenix Raceway.
Elliott, Logano, Chastain, and Larson have four of the top six average finishing positions throughout the season. They have combined to win 10 of the first 29 races this season, along with eight pole awards. Plus, they are the only four drivers who have accumulated enough playoff points to be 10-or-more points above the elimination cutline.
The Round of 12 has a couple of potential pitfall races, no doubt. After opening Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, the playoffs shift to Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Roval, which typically produce two of the most unpredictable races of any season.
Playoff points and prior success should give top postseason drivers the best shot at the Championship 4
These four drivers have more of a points cushion to survive those races than the other eight still eligible to contend for the Championship 4, and they have also had success at the tracks in this round of the postseason.
Elliott has the largest margin for error with his 40 playoff points thanks to four wins and 15 points as the regular-season champion. He does not have stellar numbers at the first two tracks in this round, but he has won two of the four Cup Series races at the Charlotte Roval. His only non-top-10 finish on the road course inside Charlotte Motor Speedway was last season when a tussle with Kevin Harvick disrupted his race and left him in 12th.
Logano sits 15 points behind Elliott but still has a 19-point gap over ninth, which will be the first spot eliminated after the second round. Logano’s 11 top-fives at Texas are the third-most of any active driver; he has three career wins at Talladega and finished in the top 10 in all four previous races at the Roval.
Chastain is the outlier of this group. He does not drive for a historically dominant organization such as Hendrick Motorsports (Elliott and Larson) or Team Penske (Logano). His Trackhouse Racing team is in its first year of operation and has set the sport on fire.
Chastain won two of the first 10 races this season, including the spring race at Talladega. He was as high as second in the points standings into July until he hit a slump once Denny Hamlin pinched him into the Turn 1 outside wall on an overtime restart at Pocono Raceway.
He then failed to finish better than 18th in seven consecutive races through the playoff opener at Darlington. Chastain has managed a pair of top-seven finishes in the last two races, however, and is 11 points above the elimination cutline.
Reigning Cup Series champion Larson resides one point behind Chastain. He leads the series with a 7.9 average starting position, his 11 top-fives are tied with Elliott for the most in the series, and he has the most recent points-paying wins at both Texas and the Roval.
Several potential surprises surely await in this second playoff round, but these four drivers have both the points banked and recent success that should give them better chances than any others to be the four who decide the championship at Phoenix.
Stats courtesy of Racing Reference