Chasing Kansas

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Kyle Larson locked into the playoffs with his Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway win, but the race was also meaningful for other reasons.

Three of the top-five finishers last week are not currently part of the playoffs. Another driver from those ranks challenged for the win until he was shuffled out of the top spot late in the going. Before the race began, we were of the opinion that three of the Championship 4 positions would go to different winners at Texas, Kansas Speedway, and Martinsville Speedway. Now, it seems much less certain.

Larson winning did not move the needle much. It was going to take multiple catastrophes to keep him from advancing at least on points, but his victory has shifted the focus in the standings to the second and third place drivers. That is the magical spot for now with Ryan Blaney eight ahead of Denny Hamlin and nine above Kyle Busch.

The other storyline that popped up last week with the potential to change the next couple of races is the lack of authority by any of the other playoff contenders. If Larson wins again at Kansas or Martinsville, two drivers will advance on points and 31 separate Blaney from seventh-place Martin Truex Jr.

Last week, William Byron and Tyler Reddick both had solid opportunities to win, and if a non-playoff contender takes one of the next two races the same scenario plays out. This season, there is a strong possibility that three of the four playoff berths will be awarded by points instead of victories.

Projected to make the Championship

Kyle Larson (8 wins / 16 stage wins / 4,123 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +150
Power Ranking: 2 (6.67)
Points’ Standings: 1
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 11.00
Martinsville: 17.25
Phoenix: 4.80

The Round of 12 was a wakeup call for the No. 5 team. A poor draw in the Talladega Superspeedway lottery and a scare at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval left him vulnerable, so the team brought out their big guns at Texas. Larson was the second driver this season to score a perfect Driver Rating of 150. (Truex earned one at Darlington Raceway.) In fact, eight of the 10 best Driver Ratings this year belong to Larson, which means he has easily been the class of the field.

Texas (150.0), Nashville (149.7), Charlotte oval (149.5), Sonoma (149.2), Atlanta 1 (144.8), Dover (144.7), Las Vegas 1 (142.6), Bristol paved (141.2)

Denny Hamlin (2 wins / 10 stage wins / 4,064 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +450
Power Ranking: 1 (3.91)
Points’ Standings: 3
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 9.83
Martinsville: 8.17
Phoenix: 7.67

Hamlin has two solid paths to the championship race. He is one of the best short, flat track racers in the field and can easily win at Martinsville. Failing that, he has been a great points’ earner and if not for bad luck at Texas, he would occupy the second position and have a much better cushion over the current cutline. Once in the finale, his record at Phoenix will make him a top contender.

Ryan Blaney (3 wins / 4 stage wins / 4,072 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +500
Power Ranking: 3 (7.00)
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 18.00
Martinsville: 7.33
Phoenix: 15.50

While it is way too soon to be counting chickens, Blaney has shown a lot of potential in the last two rounds. He jumped over Hamlin and Truex, both of whom had more playoff bonus points, and now he needs to keep them behind him. If he can stay second in the standings, his path is clear. There will be plenty of opportunities for his eggs to crack before they hatch at Kansas and Martinsville, however.

Kyle Busch (2 wins / 7 stage wins / 4,063 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +650
Power Ranking: 9 (11.21)
Points’ Standings: 4
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 8.67
Martinsville: 9.83
Phoenix: 7.17

We are pulling Busch up at the moment because of his Kansas record. He won there in the spring and still has a great 1.5-mile record despite finishing 10th last week at Texas. In the EchoPark 500 his Toyota went through major swings, however, and that causes some concern. If he does not run well in the Hollywood Casino 400, we will probably move him back down the order. While he has a shot at winning Martinsville, so do Hamlin, Truex and Elliott.

Projected to Fail to Make the Championship 4

Joey Logano (1 win / 5 stage wins / 4,020 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +2800
Power Ranking: 5 (8.48)
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 15.50
Martinsville: 6.83
Phoenix: 10.33

After his engine expired last week in Texas, Logano is in a must-win situation if he wants to be part of his fifth Championship Race. It seems more likely that he will be eliminated in the Round of 8 for a fourth time instead, but there is a reason to be hopeful. Logano won the Kansas playoff race in 2020, 2015, and 2014. He won a Martinsville playoff race in 2018.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 2 stage wins / 4,048 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +1600
Power Ranking: 6 (8.69)
Points’ Standings: 6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 5.83
Martinsville: 8.17
Phoenix: 8.00

We did not expect Keselowski to be strong at Texas and we were wrong by a considerable margin. He had a top-five car through the entire race and finished fourth. He should run well at Kansas also since he enters that track with three consecutive top-10s and a spring win in 2018. The lack of playoff bonus points will haunt him, however, and we think that will keep him from advancing to the Championship 4.

Chase Elliott (2 wins / 4 stage wins / 4,055 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +800
Power Ranking: 7 (9.57)
Points’ Standings: 5
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 5.00
Martinsville: 8.83
Phoenix: 14.83

We’ve lost confidence in Elliott. He has not shown an ability to win on ovals in 2021 and without that, his chances of clearing this hurdle are greatly diminished. He won the 2018 Kansas playoff race and last year’s Martinsville event, but this team has looked numb on the past several unrestricted ovals. The biggest thing he has going for him is that Larson’s win last week means Hendrick Motorsports can put the lion’s share of their effort into making him go fast, but without practice of qualification there is only so much they can do.

Martin Truex Jr. (4 wins / 5 stage wins / 4,041 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +1200
Power Ranking: 8 (9.66)
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 8.00
Martinsville: 6.00
Phoenix: 10.83

Truex’s accident last week puts him in a bad position. He needs to win at either Kansas or Martinsville to advance, and while he has not been particularly strong on 1.5-mile tracks this year, he is the defending winner on the short track. Being forced to win adds a lot of pressure to a team, but Truex took the checkers home in his last appearance on this course type in Richmond Raceway during the playoffs.

Power
Rankings

Power
Avg.

|

Points
Standings

Points

PointsBet
Odds

Driver

Wins

Stage
Wins

|

Kansas

Martinsville

Phoenix

Projected Top 4

2

6.67

|

1

4123

+150

Kyle Larson (+)

8

16

|

11.00

17.25

4.80

1

3.91

|

3

4064

+450

Denny Hamlin

2

10

|

9.83

8.17

7.67

3

7.00

|

2

4072

+500

Ryan Blaney

3

4

|

18.00

7.33

15.50

9

11.21

|

4

4063

+650

Kyle Busch

2

7

|

8.67

9.83

7.17

Projected to fail to
Make Top 4

5

8.48

|

8

4020

+2800

Joey Logano

1

5

|

15.50

6.83

10.33

6

8.69

|

6

4048

+1600

Brad Keselowski

1

2

|

5.83

8.17

8.00

7

9.57

|

5

4055

+800

Chase Elliott

2

4

|

5.00

8.83

14.83

8

9.66

|

7

4041

+1200

Martin Truex Jr.

4

5

|

8.00

6.00

10.83

No Longer in
Playoff Contention

4

7.07

|

9

2248

NA

Kevin Harvick

0

0

|

7.00

10.67

5.67

10

11.51

|

12

2192

NA

Tyler Reddick

0

3

|

13.50

16.00

27.00

11

12.11

|

10

2198

NA

Christopher Bell

1

0

|

20.33

19.50

16.67

12

12.53

|

13

2183

NA

William Byron

1

3

|

15.00

18.33

12.83

13

13.24

|

11

2196

NA

Kurt Busch

1

3

|

15.17

9.83

13.83

20

18.77

|

14

2136

NA

Aric Almirola

1

0

|

15.50

19.50

10.33

21

18.94

|

15

2135

NA

Alex Bowman

3

0

|

8.50

17.83

21.83

26

24.26

|

16

2107

NA

Michael McDowell

1

0

|

20.83

25.33

24.00

+ Clinched playoff berth

A note about the three-year stats: The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,116 days—to provide for minor changes in the schedule. Since some races shift dates more than a week or two, the past three years race total occasionally varies. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

A note about the Power Average: The Power Rankings formula includes finishing results in the past 45 days as well as various “strength-based” intangibles such as Laps in the top five, 10, and 15, average running position, speed in traffic, and quality passes (passing a car while in the top 15) expressed as if they were finishing results. The lower the number, the stronger the driver.

Power Rankings After Texas
Chasing Texas
Chasing Charlotte Roval

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