The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Round of 12 begins Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the running of the Bank of America 500.
The next three races — Charlotte, Talladega Superspeedway and Kansas Speedway — will determine which eight drivers will make it to the semi-final playoff round and which four will be eliminated from championship contention.
As always, Talladega remains the wild card: Anything can happen there to any driver, whether they are leading or running last. And when it does, it can render any educated predictions null and void.
With that caveat, here are my predictions on who will advance to Round 3 and who won’t.
- Jamie McMurray, 3003 points
McMurray starts the Round of 12 last in points among the drivers still in title contention. In the first round of the playoffs, his best finish was ninth. Combine that with his points position and he has an uphill path. VERDICT: DOESN’T ADVANCE
- Matt Kenseth, 3,005 points
In the first round, Kenseth had a solid average finish of 7.67 and these tracks set up well for him — Kenseth has won twice at Charlotte and Kansas and once at Talladega. Besides, the Joe Gibbs Toyotas are running well at the moment. VERDICT: ADVANCES
- Chase Elliott, 3,006 points
Although he’s not in a great points position, Elliott had two runner-up finishes in Round 1 of the playoffs and the Hendrick Motorsports teams seems to have found a little bit more speed lately. VERDICT: ADVANCES
- Ryan Blaney, 3,008 points
In Round 1, Blaney and the Wood Brothers Racing team didn’t look too stellar, with a best result a ninth place at New Hampshire. This is the first playoff appearance for both the driver and team. VERDICT: DOESN’T ADVANCE
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 3,010 points
The argument for Stenhouse is that he won the last two restrictor-plate races this season. The argument against him is he had the worst average finish (19.67) of any driver in the playoffs who made it out of Round 1. It’s too much to expect him to win again at Talladega. VERDICT: DOESN’T ADVANCE
- Denny Hamlin, 3013 points
Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, the other two Joe Gibbs Racing drivers in the playoffs both did substantially better than Hamlin did in Round 1. Of the 23 tracks the Cup series races at, Charlotte is Hamlin’s 10th-best track in terms of average finish, while Talladega ranks 20th and Kansas 22nd. VERDICT: DOESN’T ADVANCE
- Kevin Harvick, 3015 points
In terms of average finish, Charlotte is an excellent track for Harvick, Kansas a fair one and Talladega a poor one. All told, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has six points race victories at these three tracks. VERDICT: ADVANCES
- Jimmie Johnson, 3017 points
At the three tracks in this round, Johnson has won 13 points races. Yes, he’s had a sub-par season by his own Superman standards, but Johnson should find a way to stay in the title discussion. VERDICT: ADVANCES
- Brad Keselowski, 3020 points
The 2012 champion has four victories at Talladega, where the performance deficit the Fords have will be less of an issue than it is at Charlotte and Kansas, two tracks where Keselowski has also won at with Team Penske. VERDICT: ADVANCES
- Kyle Larson, 3034 points
The best of the Chevrolet drivers all season long, Larson is one of only two drivers who finished in the top five in all three races of Round 1 of the playoffs. He is certainly a legit title contender with his Chip Ganassi Racing team. VERDICT: ADVANCES
- Kyle Busch, 3041 points
Given that he’s won the two most recent races and he has amassed a boatload of points, Busch is well on his way to making it to the championship race at Homestead. VERDICT: ADVANCES
- Martin Truex Jr., 3059 points
The points leader and regular-season champion has such a huge points lead that it’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario where Truex and his Furniture Row Racing team don’t advance to Homestead. VERDICT: ADVANCES
All Images Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography