Time is running out on the regular season.
There are four weekends that will be contested on three different tracks before the playoffs begin. Doubleheaders at Michigan this week and Dover in three weeks will make the time fly by and any minor mistake at those two tracks will be exacerbated by a lack of practice.
If a team does not get the setup right when they roll off the hauler, the potential points’ penalty will be compounded.
The other two races before the playoffs will be contested at Daytona. One will be run on the road course as a replacement to Watkins Glen, which is not quite ready to reopen during the pandemic. The other race will be on the superspeedway. What they have in common is that both are wild card events with an increased probability that a new unique winner could advance from below the playoff bubble.
And then, there are drivers in desperate states of mind.
When Cole Custer and Austin Dillon secured playoff positions on the backs of victories, they moved the current cutline to 14th. Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Jimmie Johnson, and Erik Jones are the drivers just above and below the bubble. Each of them is going to be willing to gamble to get a victory or secure enough points to advance.
Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch are not currently in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs, but with only one bonus point each, they need to gamble in order to create an easier path out of the Round of 16. Aric Almirola has only two playoff points at the moment. In addition to the 30 points available for winning there are 12 stage points up for grabs. The next six races hold the potential to be chaotic and enjoyable, but they are also likely to give bettors a few more gray hairs.
1. Kevin Harvick (last week: 1)
Weeks in the top 10: 18
Weeks as #1: 10
Power Average: 6.04
Harvick’s fifth-place finish in New Hampshire was his seventh consecutive top-five. That is making him one of the most predictable drivers on the circuit, but it tends to make him irrelevant for bettors. He’s won two of those races. That means he’s lost five and yet he has not struggled enough that anyone has been successful fading him. If you’re spreading the money around, Harvick is worth the occasional bet for when he’s able to break back into Victory Lane.
2. Brad Keselowski (last week: 3) +1
Weeks in the top 10: 18
Power Average: 7.36
Standing on the frontstretch last week after winning the Foxwoods Casino 301, Keselowski said that what he needed most was a chance to dominate a race. It worked out for him. Not only did he get the five bonus points for the victory, the performance undoubtedly helped get Roger Penske’s signature on his contract renewal. Keselowski will be relaxed this week at Michigan, where this organization has a history of running well.
3. Aric Almirola (last week: 4) +1
Weeks in the top 10: 6
Power Average: 7.75
Almirola finished precisely where we expected he would last week: inside the top 10, but outside the top five. A seventh-place finish at New Hampshire gives him nine consecutive top-10s. This week he opens with +1800 (18/1) odds to win at Michigan and +450 to finish among the top three. The 2-mile tracks are wide and spacious, which gives drivers a chance to separate from the competition. That is a scenario that should play into Almirola’s favor.
4. Denny Hamlin (last week: 5) +1
Weeks in the top 10: 14
Weeks as #1: 1
Power Average: 8.16
Hamlin’s second-place finish on the short, flat track of New Hampshire was predictable. Few are better on that course type than the driver of the No. 11 and he was the main competition for Keselowski throughout most of the race. He has been strong on unrestricted, intermediate speedways this season as well, but instead of anticipating a top-five, look for something between sixth and 10th based on how he performed this spring at Auto Club.
5. Ryan Blaney (last week: 2) -3
Weeks in the top 10: 14
Weeks as #1: 2
Blaney has lost a lot of momentum during the past 45 days – and unless he has a solid run at Michigan, he’s in danger of falling onto the bubble of the Power Rankings top 10. Next week Talladega ages out of our Power Rankings formula and that will leave him with only two top-10s in recent events. He finished 20th last week, which is the fourth time in the past eight races that he has been in the back half of the field. It’s hard to get much attention from there.
6. Martin Truex Jr. (last week: 8) +2
Weeks in the top 10: 15
Power Average: 12.50
Truex is finally looking like a safe bet to finish in the top three. He was second at Kentucky and added third-place finishes in his last two attempts at Kansas and New Hampshire. This week at Michigan, he opens with +800 odds to win outright and +225 to finish in the top three. Joe Gibbs Racing seems to be regaining their speed; that vanguard is being led by Hamlin and Truex, so they are both worth modest wagers.
7. Joey Logano (last week: 10) +3
Weeks in the top 10: 19
Power Average: 12.71
Logano finished fourth last week at New Hampshire. Three weeks ago he was third at Texas. Given the mediocrity of this team in the races before that, it’s much too soon to predict whether he will stay among the top five. What should give his fans hope is the confidence he exuded at the end of the race last week. Logano won one of the two Michigan races last year and finished second at Auto Club in 2019. Unfortunately, he was outside the top 15 in Michigan 2 and 12th this spring in California.
8. Kurt Busch (last week: 7) -1
Weeks in the top 10: 15
Power Average: 12.85
The thing that has kept us interested in Busch for so long has been his consistency. That confidence is waning after he recorded his third finish outside the top 15 in the last nine races; two other races were outside the top 10 and that doesn’t leave much room to make him attractive for bettors. It’s hard to guarantee a finish outside the top 10, but it’s just as difficult to stake much on his finishing inside that mark.
9. Matt DiBenedetto (last week: 11) +2
Weeks in the top 10: 3
Power Average: 13.15
It’s not quite time to stop thinking of DiBenedetto as a dark horse, but if he can find a way to stay among the top 10 for a couple of weeks, he has a chance to elevate his status. More importantly, he stays playoff relevant where he currently has +5000 odds to win the championship. Until then he will continue to be undervalued and represents an opportunity to bank some modest cash. For the FireKeepers Casino 312 he opened at +4000 to win outright and his odds of +145 to finish in the top 10 makes him attractive.
10. Chase Elliott (last week: 4) -4
Weeks in the top 10: 19
Weeks as #1: 5
Power Average: 13.41
At the start of last week’s race, it was reported that Elliott said finishing anywhere in the top 10 would be a success for this team. They finished ninth. The statement and the finish both revealed just how much this team has slipped in the past eight races. With only two top-10s in that span and an average finish of 16.75, he should be avoided until the team regains some confidence. He could go either way at Michigan. During the past five events, he has four top-10s but none have been better than eighth.
Dropped from the Top 10
11. Kyle Busch (last week: 9) +2
Weeks in the top 10: 12
Power Average: 13.56
When Busch retired in last place at New Hampshire, it was a forgone conclusion that he would not remain in the Power Rankings top 10. That was the continuation of eight weeks of alternating bad luck and strong performances. The balance finally tipped in his disfavor and during that span he now has four results outside the top 20 compared to only three top-10s. This team is struggling, and while there is no realistic scenario in which they do not make the playoffs, they will have virtually no bonus points to help them get to the final round.
Big Movers outside the Top 10
13. Erik Jones (last week: 16) +3
Weeks in the top 10: 4
Power Average: 15.40
If Jones can get rid of his poor finishes, he is poised to move rapidly up the chart. In the past eight weeks, he has four results of sixth or better. Unfortunately his other four efforts landed outside the top 20. Meanwhile the pressure to run well is intensifying as his principal rival for the No. 20 saw his team make an announcement that they sold their assets for 2021. There are still a lot of solid rides to be had for both Jones and Bell, but time is running out on the season.
18. Christopher Bell (last week: 21) +3
Weeks in the top 10: 0
Power Average: 18.21
Bell is finally gaining some momentum just as his car owners have been forced to sell their team. Earlier this week, Leavine Family Racing reported they had a buyer for 2021 and intend to operate until the end of the season, but one has to be at least a little concerned about the allocation of resources for a driver who has not exactly taken command of the Rookie of the Year as we expected him to do at the start of the year.
Winners, Last 45 Days (Outright Odds to win)
Foxwoods Casino 301, New Hampshire: Brad Keselowski (+900)
Super Start Batteries 400, Kansas: Denny Hamlin (+800)
O'Reilly 500, Texas: Austin Dillon (+12500)
Quaker State 400, Kentucky: Cole Custer (+10000)
Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400, Indy: Kevin Harvick (+400)
Pocono 350, Pocono: Denny Hamlin (+800)
Pocono Organics 325, Pocono: Kevin Harvick (+650)
Geico 500, Talladega: Ryan Blaney (+1200)
Power Average, Last 45 Days