Give us the driver who intrigues you the most heading into the Cup playoffs.
Nate Ryan: William Byron because he seems on the cusp of becoming the next inaugural winner in Cup.
Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin. With 35 career victories but no Cup titles, the question has been asked if Hamlin is one of the best drivers in NASCAR history without a championship. His four victories this season shows the speed he has. Crew chief Chris Gabehart has built this team for the playoffs. Now let’s see how Hamlin and his team fares.
Daniel McFadin: Kurt Busch. After a remarkably consistent season, he briefly slumped after his Kentucky win before surging at Bristol and Darlington. I think he’ll be extremely dangerous this postseason if he can avoid getting caught up in other people’s mistakes.
Jerry Bonkowski: Kurt Busch is the guy I have my eye on. The first playoff champion in 2004, Busch comes into this year’s playoffs with little to lose and everything to gain. He still doesn’t have a deal in place to return to Chip Ganassi Racing – or to race for another team, for that matter – for next season. Or, could he retire after this season, especially if he wins the championship? If Busch gets hot in the first two rounds, he could be unstoppable all the way through Miami.
Last year Stewart-Haas Racing put all four of its drivers in the final eight. What do you think are the chances Joe Gibbs Racing can put all four of its drivers in the final eight this year?
Nate Ryan: Very good. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are virtual locks through playoff points. If Erik Jones can continue his recent surge, JGR will have all its cars on the doorstep to the championship round.
Dustin Long: Odds are good for Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. to make it to the final eight with the number of playoff points they take into the postseason. Then it would be up to Erik Jones to work his way into the final eight.
Daniel McFadin: I’m not at all sure that JGR can pull that off. I think the field is too competitive and we’ll get at least one surprise who advances that far. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch will get to the final eight, but I have reservations about Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr.
Jerry Bonkowski: While I’d like to see it, I don’t think it’ll happen. I’ll be surprised the most if Erik Jones makes it through the second round, let alone the first. Sure, his Darlington win was big, but he needs a lot more of those in the first round or two to make it to the semifinal round. And given the scope of the competition, particularly among his own teammates, I just don’t see Jones going as far as Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin.
Which four drivers do you have racing for a Cup championship in Miami?
Nate Ryan: My Championship 4 picks on Feb. 12 were: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin. I’ll sub Truex for Elliott.
Dustin Long: Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski
Daniel McFadin: Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson
Jerry Bonkowski: Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.
Who do you think will be the four drivers out after the first round of the Cup playoffs?
Nate Ryan: Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch.
Dustin Long: Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch
Daniel McFadin: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, William Byron and Clint Bowyer
Jerry Bonkowski: Erik Jones, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Ryan Newman.