playoff preview

Previewing the Cup Series playoff field

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The 16-driver field for the 2018 Cup Series playoffs has been set following the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The field includes six former champions and two first-time drivers in the playoffs (Alex Bowman and Erik Jones).

The 10-race playoff begins at 3 p.m. ET Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBCSN.

Here’s a breakdown of the playoff field.

Kyle Busch

Points: 2,050 (1st)

Wins: 6 (Texas I, Bristol I, Richmond I, Coke 600, Chicago, Pocono II)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Mild. Has two top threes and finishes of 20th, seventh and eighth since winning at Pocono.

Playoff wins: 5

Best playoff track: Richmond. Five wins, including in the spring this year. Avg finish of 7.2 in 26 starts.

Worst playoff track: Talladega. Just one win and six top fives in 26 starts. Avg finish of 20.5.

Why he’ll win the championship: Is a threat to win at every track.

Why he won’t win the championship: Anything could happen throughout the playoffs with races at Talladega, the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville.

 

Kevin Harvick

Points: 2,050 (2nd)

Wins: 7 (Atlanta, Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Dover I, Kansas I, New Hampshire, Michigan II)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Warm. Has alternated 10th and fourth-place finishes in the races around his Michigan win.

Playoff wins: 12

Best playoff track: Phoenix. Nine wins, including seven in the last 10 races.

Worst playoff track: Martinsville. One win and just five top fives in 34 starts. Two top fives since 2012.

Why he’ll win the championship: He’s in the middle of his best career season 18 years in.

Why he won’t win the championship: He hasn’t exhibited his front-runner speed as much since winning at Michigan.

 

Martin Truex Jr.

Points: 2,035 (3rd)

Wins: 4 (Auto Club Speedway, Kentucky, Pocono I, Sonoma)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Cold. Second-place finish at Watkins Glen is his only finish better than 11th in last five races.

Playoff wins: 6

Best playoff track: Richmond. Three wins in last seven starts there, career average finish of 10.3.

Worst playoff track: Talladega. Four DNFs in last five races there, career average finish of 28.3.

Why he’ll win the championship: Truex has Cole Pearn as his crew chief.

Why he won’t win the championship: Distraction of Furniture Row Racing shutting down after the season.

 

Brad Keselowski

Points: 2,019 (4th)

Wins: 2 (Darlington, Indianapolis)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs Hot. Coming off two consecutive wins, both in crown jewel races.

Playoff wins: 6

Best playoff track: Talladega. Five wins is most among active drivers.

Worst playoff track: Kansas. Despite two wins, he has his worst avg. finish there (18.1).

Why he’ll win the championship: Has at least one win at six of the nine playoff tracks he’s competed on (not counting Roval).

Why he won’t win the championship: General inconsistency that has plagued his season could return.

 

Clint Bowyer

Points: 2,015 (5th)

Wins: 2 (Martinsville I, Michigan I)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Mild. Indianapolis was just his second top 10 since Pocono II.

Playoff wins: 5

Best playoff track: Richmond. Two wins in 25 starts and an avg. finish of 13.2.

Worst playoff track: Las Vegas. Only one top five and four top 10s in 13 starts. Avg. finish of 17.8.

Why he’ll win the championship: Four of his best tracks – Richmond, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover – await him in the playoffs.

Why he won’t win the championship: Despite enjoying his most success in years, it’s been a season of feast or famine with his two wins punctuating long stretches of mediocrity.

 

Joey Logano

Points: 2,014 (6th)

Wins: 1 (Talladega)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Heating up. Two top fives in last three races after just one in previous 13 races.

Playoff wins: 7

Best playoff track: Talladega. Three wins and four top fives in last six starts.

Worst playoff track: Kansas. Despite two wins, he has his worst avg. finish there (18.1).

Why he’ll win the championship: Team Penske has stepped up at crunch time this year and he may be one of the few drivers looking forward to Talladega.

Why he won’t win the championship: Has never finished better than fourth at Miami.

 

Kurt Busch

Points:  2,014 (7th)

Wins: 1 (Bristol II)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Medium. Outside Bristol win, he has three sixths and one ninth-place finish

Playoff wins: 3

Best playoff track: Richmond. Two wins and seven top fives in 35 starts.

Worst playoff track: Las Vegas. Only one top five in 17 starts at his home track.

Why he’ll win the championship: He has something to prove to the teams he could potentially race for in 2019.

Why he won’t win the championship: Lack of consistent success at most of the playoff tracks. Homestead-Miami Speedway represents his fifth worst average finish (18.4).

 

Chase Elliott

Points: 2,008 (8th)

Wins: 1 (Watkins Glen)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Hot. The Brickyard 400 was his first finish outside the top 10 since New Hampshire.

Playoff wins: None

Best playoff track: Dover. Has top fives in four of five career starts.

Worst playoff track: Las Vegas. Avg. finish of 25th in three starts.

Why he’ll win the championship: Enters playoffs as arguably the most consistent driver over the summer.

Why he won’t win the championship: Chevrolet has lagged behind Toyota and Ford for the last year.

 

Ryan Blaney

Points:  2,007 (9th)

Wins: None

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Cold. Only one top five since Pocono II.

Playoff wins: None

Best playoff track: Kansas. Three top fives in seven career starts.

Worst playoff track: Richmond. No top fives or top 10s and an avg.. finish of 28.6.

Why he’ll win the championship: Team Penske is experiencing a resurgance entering the playoffs.

Why he won’t win the championship: Were he to make it Miami, it’s one of his worst tracks. He’s never finished better than 17th in three starts.

 

 

Erik Jones

Points:  2,005 (10th)

Wins: 1 (Daytona II)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Hot. Just one finish outside top 10 since Pocono II.

Playoff wins: None

Best playoff track: Phoenix. One top five and three top 10s in his three starts.

Worst playoff track: Talladega. Hasn’t finished in any of his three starts due to wrecks.

Why he’ll win the championship: With just two finishes outside the top 10 since Sonoma, his quiet consistency could lead to a deep playoff run.

Why he won’t win the championship: He has only one Miami start. He placed 21st, two laps down.

 

Austin Dillon

Points: 2,005 (11th)

Wins: 1 (Daytona 500)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Cold. Only two top-10 finishes since the July race at Daytona

Playoff wins: None

Best playoff track: Martinsville. Only playoff track with multiple top fives.

Worst playoff track: Texas. Avg. finish of 23.3 in 11 starts.

Why he’ll win the championship: Anything is possible.

Why he won’t win the championship: He has one top five since winning the Daytona 500.

 

Kyle Larson

Points: 2,005 (12th)

Wins: None

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Pretty warm. Placed 14th at Indy after two consecutive top fives at Bristol and Darlington, his only consecutive top fives of the year.

Playoff wins: None

Best playoff track: Homestead – best avg finish among playoff tracks (7.6). Richmond – Only playoff track where he has won.

Worst playoff track: Martinsville. Has avg finish of 22.8 in nine starts.

Why he’ll win the championship: If he can make it to the final four, he’ll be the man to beat at Miami.

Why he won’t win the championship: Team is winless since last year’s regular-season finale. Has been unable to put together a full race.

 

Denny Hamlin

Points: 2,003 (13th)

Wins: None

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Thawing. Despite three poles since Watkins Glen, he has finished better than eighth just once in that stretch (Indianapolis).

Playoff wins: 7

Best playoff track: Martinsville. Five wins in 25 starts.

Worst playoff track: Dover. Just three top fives in 25 starts. An avg. finish of 18th.

Why he’ll win the championship: As the winningest active driver without a title, he has to win it sometime, right?

Why he won’t win the championship: Hamlin has been unable to compete upfront for most of the season. Indianapolis was his first top-five finish since the Coca-Cola 600 in May.

 

Aric Almirola

Points: 2,001 (14th)

Wins: None

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Cold. Only one finish better than 14th since Pocono II.

Playoff wins: None

Best playoff track: Talladega. Two top fives and five tops 10s in 17 starts.

Worst playoff track: Las Vegas. Just one top 10 and an avg. finish of 26.2 in 10 starts.

Why he’ll win the championship: Anything seems possible for Almirola in his career-best year.

Why he won’t win the championship: Despite strong cars, the teams is consistently felled by mistakes on the track and in the pits.

 

Jimmie Johnson

Points: 2,000 (15th)

Wins: None

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Freezing. Just two top 10s since the spring Pocono race.

Playoff wins: 29. Leads active drivers

Best playoff track: Dover. Career-best 11 wins.

Worst playoff track: Talladega. Only two top fives since his last win there in 2011.

Why he’ll win the championship: He’s won seven championships. You just can’t count him out.

Why he won’t win the championship: In the worst season of his career, he’s shown few signs of being able to contend.

 

Alex Bowman

Points:  2,000 (16th)

Wins: None

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Cold following his wreck and 33rd-place finish at Indianapolis.

Playoff wins: None

Best playoff track: Phoenix. Led a career-best 194 laps and finished sixth in the fall 2016 race.

Worst playoff track: Texas. In his two starts there for Hendrick Motorsports, he has finishes of 13th and 28th.

Why he’ll win the championship: Bowman could surge at the short tracks in the playoffs and Talladega.

Why he won’t win the championship: Hasn’t been a contender at the front all season.