NASCAR Cup Series Champion Predictions, Odds & Picks
- The NASCAR Cup Series Playoff field is set, and 16 drivers will battle for the title.
- Veterans Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin begin postseason with huge points edge.
- Those who squeaked into the Playoffs will have a hard time surviving the first round.
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NASCAR Cup Series Champion 2020 Odds
|Martin Truex Jr.||+700|
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NASCAR Cup Series Champion Picks and Predictions
The way we see it, the championship is between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, the top performers during the regular season. Because NASCAR moved the championship race from Homestead, one of Hamlin’s best tracks, to Phoenix, where Harvick has dominated with a record nine wins, we have to go with Harvick for the title.
Kevin Harvick +200
NASCAR Cup Series 2020
The 10-race NASCAR Cup Series Playoff starts Sunday, September 6 with one of the sport’s most venerable and iconic races, the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Sixteen drivers qualified for the postseason after last Sunday’s cutoff race at Daytona International Speedway.
William Byron picked up his first career victory in that event to lock up a playoff berth. Wood Brothers Racing driver Matt DiBenedetto secured the final spot in the postseason, edging seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson by six points.
In his final season of full-time NASCAR racing, Johnson won’t be competing for a record eighth title, but his former crew chief, Chad Knaus, has a shot at his eighth championship, which would tie NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Inman’s series record. Knaus is calling the shots for Byron this year.
The Playoff rules are simple. There are three rounds of three races each. Win a race and you advance to the next round. After each round, the four non-winning drivers with the lowest point totals are eliminated. After the third round (the Round of 8), four drivers remain.
Those four survivors will compete for the title in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway on November 8. The highest finisher among them will earn the series championship. In each year since the elimination format was adopted for the 2014 season, the eventual champion also has won the final race.
Favorites to Win the NASCAR Cup Series Championship
The list of favorites to win the NASCAR Cup Series title features two names: Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin. Harvick led the series with seven victories this season, followed closely by Hamlin with six.
When the NASCAR reopened in May after a 10-week hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, Harvick and Hamlin each claimed victory in one of the first two races after the break—both at Darlington, where the Playoffs open with the Southern 500 on Sunday.
Harvick, the regular-season champion, enters the postseason with 57 Playoff points, an unprecedented number. Hamlin brings 47 Playoff points to Darlington. Those tallies, earned with race victories (five points each) and stage wins (one point), carry through the Playoffs until the final race, where the Championship 4 drivers compete on even terms.
Essentially, both Harvick and Hamlin have “mulligans,” enough points to rescue them from a catastrophic finish in one of the early-round races. Brad Keselowski has 29 Playoff points, third-most, and if Harvick and Hamlin falter, the 2012 series champion is most likely to fill the void.
Underdogs to Win the NASCAR Cup Series Championship
In addition to Harvick and Keselowski, there are four other former Cup champions in the Playoff: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, and Kurt Busch. Truex and Logano won races during the regular season. The Busch brothers didn’t claim a victory between them.
Despite suffering through a miserable regular season, however, two-time and reigning champion Kyle Busch is dangerous every time he puts on his firesuit. All you have to do is recall 2011 when Tony Stewart entered the Playoff as a non-factor and won five of the last 10 events to claim the title on a tiebreaker. Kyle could catch fire in that fashion, too.
Both Kyle Busch and Truex are driving Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas, as is Hamlin. Logano and Keselowski are teammates at Team Penske, and Logano has a respectable cushion of 22 Playoff points. Kurt Busch, the 2004 champion, is least likely of the group to repeat, given the lack of raw speed in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolets.
Chase Elliott, a two-time winner this year with 20 Playoff points, is the best of the three Hendrick Motorsports entries in the postseason, the others being William Byron and Alex Bowman. Elliott won the NASCAR All-Star race in July at Bristol (the cutoff track for the Round of 16). Last year he won at the Charlotte Road Course (the cutoff track for the Round of 12), and in 2018 he triumphed at Kansas (the first track in the Round of 8). So don’t count him out.
Based on his consistent performance, which at one point featured nine straight top-10 finishes, Aric Almirola also deserves inclusion in the underdog group. But Almirola likely will have to overcome a meager total of five Playoff points by winning during the postseason, something he didn’t do in the 26-race regular season.
No Chance to Win the NASCAR Cup Series Championship
Cole Custer, who forced his way into the Playoff with an opportunistic victory at Kentucky Speedway, will struggle to survive the first round. The same is true of Matt DiBenedetto, who qualified for the postseason with six points to spare. Bristol Motor Speedway, which hosts the cutoff race for the Round of 16, is one of DiBenedetto’s best tracks, but the driver of the No. 21 Ford has no Playoff points and, hence, no margin for error.
Clint Bowyer could win at Richmond, the second track in the Round of 16, and he could be a factor at both Talladega and the Charlotte Road Course, the final two venues in the Round of 12. But mistakes have plagued Bowyer all season long, and that inconsistency won’t allow him to make the final four and race for the title at Phoenix.
More NASCAR Predictions & Odds
Award-winning motorsports writer Reid Spencer has served as lead writer for the NASCAR Wire Service for 16 years, having also spent a four-year stint as NASCAR columnist and beat writer for Sporting News. He is currently serving as president of the National Motorsports Press Association.