Nate Ryan: Probably these four. Blaney and Keselowski could advance on points but will need to run well and get some major help from those above the cut line. Larson and Bowman will advance only by winning, and the odds of that are only realistic for Larson.
Dustin Long: Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski. Kyle Larson was strong at Kansas in May and should provide a valiant run but he’s in essentially a must-win situation and it will be hard to beat Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. at that track.
Daniel McFadin: Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson.
Dan Beaver: Blaney, Larson and Bowman effectively need a win to advance and they have not shown enough consistent strength on the 1.5-mile tracks to get that done at Kansas. Keselowski and Truex have – and after two frustrating weeks, they will do enough to get into the next round. That leaves Clint Bowyer as the odd man out. Kansas may be his home track, but it has not been particularly welcoming since 2013.
After nearly winning at Dover and then winning at Talladega, how do you rate Aric Almirola’s championship chances?
Nate Ryan: Still fair to middling. He will likely run well at Texas and possibly Phoenix but Martinsville (three top 10s in 19 starts) will be a challenge.
Dustin Long: Better than it was two weeks ago but still not among the favorites.
Daniel McFadin: 65 percent. Phoenix and Kansas are among his top nine tracks in average finishes, but he’s finished in the top 10 at Texas once and Homestead twice (in 2010 and 2012). Almirola hasn’t finished in the top 10 at Martinsville since 2014.
Dan Beaver: Almirola has not been able to sustain momentum for very long in 2018. Unless he wins at Kansas, he’ll enter Round 3 with less than 10 bonus points and that is going to make it difficult for him to advance. Almirola’s odds of winning a championship are low.
Do you rate Aric Almirola’s title chances better than any of the Big 3 drivers? Why or why not?
Nate Ryan: No. It still seems better than 50-50 odds that Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. all advance to the championship round, partly because of their playoff points cushion but also because the five remaining tracks (three 1.5-mile ovals) lay out well for the trio.
Dustin Long: Still a gap between the Big 3 and the rest of the playoff field.
Daniel McFadin: Less. Kevin Harvick is the biggest threat at Phoenix and he hasn’t finished outside the top 10 there in the last 10 years. And with 1.5-mile tracks in the form of Texas, Kansas and Homestead, you have to believe the Big 3 are the favorites regardless of how well Almirola is doing.
Dan Beaver: Almirola had a couple of strong runs at Homestead with Richard Petty Motorsports including a fourth in 2010. He has only three top-fives this year – none of which came on 1.5-mile tracks. He won’t be able to outrun Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch in the finale.
What did you think of the Talladega race?
Nate Ryan: It was unlike anything at that 2.66-mile oval in nearly a half-century – look no further than the 15 lead changes being the fewest since 1973. Based off fan and driver reaction, NASCAR assuredly will take steps to improve the stability of the cars for a return to pack racing and nonstop drafting in 2019.
Dustin Long: An unusual race because of rule changes this season that made the cars so hard to drive. At the end it was still the same Talladega — chaos.
Daniel McFadin: It was by far the most fascinating Talladega race in recent memory, despite the fewest lead changes in a Cup race there since 1973. Seeing the Stewart-Haas Racing cars pull ahead of the field by at least a dozen car lengths at times was an echo of plate races there when Y2K was a threat. I’m completely game for a superspeedway race where the field isn’t one giant blob that’s only broken up by large crashes.
Dan Beaver: I’ve learned to never be surprised by anything that happens at Talladega. The four-car domination by the Stewart-Haas drivers was interesting, but it wasn’t very entertaining to watch.