Six races have been completed in the 2020 NASCAR Playoffs with just eight drivers remaining eligible to win the Cup Championship after eight have been eliminated.
The Round of 8 begins Sunday at Kansas Speedway with the Hollywood Casino 400 and will continue at Texas the following week and conclude at Martinsville where four more drivers will bow out of contention giving us the Championship 4 to battle it out at Phoenix on Nov. 8.
And then there were 8 🤘🏼 pic.twitter.com/Y8RI4ANpbr— Alex Bowman (@AlexBowman88) October 11, 2020
Drivers will carry over their points from the season and what has been gained during the Playoffs. But when they get to Phoenix, all four drivers will come in with the same amount of points and whoever finishes the best among them will be our 2020 champion.
The key component in the Round of 8 is that there are two 1.5-mile tracks and the drivers will be using the race package with engines producing 550 horsepower that has been used 18 times this season on larger tracks and Sunday’s race will be the 10th time it has been used on a 1.5-mile track.
Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin have combined to win 11 of the 18 races using the 550 hp package and both are the drivers we need to start with here, although Harvick has only one win on a 1.5-mile track (at Atlanta, June 7).
The last two races on 1.5s have been dominated by Hamlin. He won July 23 at Kansas leading a race-high 57 laps, his second Kansas win in a row, and then he finished third at Las Vegas on Sept. 27 after leading a race-high 121 laps. He should have won in Vegas for the first time, but a late caution after he and the other leaders pitted put them at the tail end of the lead lap with 22 laps to go. It led to Kurt Busch earning his first career win in any series on his home track.
In three of the other races on 1.5s, there was a tire compound used that didn’t wear and allowed drivers to bypass tire changes and take fuel only on the final pit stop with the gamble paying off all three times. Joey Logano won at Las Vegas in February, Cole Custer won at Kentucky July 12 paying out 300-1 odds, and Austin Dillon paid out at 100-1 odds at Kentucky the following week.
With all things being straight, the cream is supposed to rise to the top in 1.5-mile layouts and I expect that to be the case at Kansas this weekend. That means more Hamlin, who is tied for the most wins (3) in Kansas Speedway history. Harvick also has three wins and his 9.5 average finish and 864 laps led are the best among active drivers with two starts there.
Martin Truex Jr. is a driver who could use a win this week to get the automatic berth into Phoenix. He’s currently seeded sixth, 10 points behind Chase Elliott in fourth. He’s the only driver other than Hamlin to have top-five finishes in the last two 1.5s. He led 44 laps at Kansas in July before finishing third. He has two wins and nine top-fives between his 24 starts which includes 803 laps led. This is the classic definition of tracks Truex has traditionally done well at during his career.
Brad Keselowski also has two Kansas wins and was runner-up in the July race. He’s currently seeded No. 3 in the Playoffs, 19-points behind Hamlin, and has four wins on the season. Martinsville is going to be a great track for him to advance into the Championship 4, but he could get it done at Kansas and should be getting nice odds as Harvick and Hamlin’s low odds put stress on the desired low theoretic hold percentage books like Circa Sports and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook like to use (23% range) which forces them to raise odds on all the other drivers. Winning 11 of 18 races with this race package as Harvick and Hamlin have done has a major effect on the odds.
A driver to pay attention to this week in your bet strategy is lame-duck driver Erik Jones who is making the most of having great Joe Gibbs Racing equipment for the remainder of 2020 to impress some other team to sign him for 2021.
His campaign has been brilliant, just short of a win. In his last six starts, he has a fourth at Darlington, 22nd at Richmond, third at Bristol, eighth at Las Vegas, runner-up at Talladega, and third last week on the ROVAL. He’s got four more whacks at a win and could care less about the playoffs happening.