NASCAR Cup Series Champion Predictions, Odds & Picks

  • Kyle Larson is favored to win the NASCAR Cup Series title, but is that status justified?
  • Let’s take a close look at the Championship 4 perennials because experience counts.
  • Winning isn’t the only thing in the NASCAR Playoff, but it’s the sure way to advance.

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NASCAR Cup Series Champion 2021 Odds

Odds taken on 30 September, 2021 from DraftKings Sportsbook

Winner Odds
Kyle Larson +220
Denny Hamlin +400
Chase Elliott +650
Kyle Busch +800
Martin Truex Jr. +800
Ryan Blaney +1400
Joey Logano +1400
William Byron +1500
Kevin Harvick +2000
Brad Keselowski +2000
Alex Bowman +2500
Christopher Bell +3500

With the running of last Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, the 16-driver field for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff is complete.

Tyler Reddick drove his damaged No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to a fifth-place finish in the final regular-season event to secure the final Playoff berth by 30 points over teammate Austin Dillon, who was the victim of a last-lap crash.

The 16 drivers who qualified for the postseason begin the first round of eliminations in Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. After the first three Playoff races, the field will be cut from 16 to 12 drivers.

That same format will be in play in each of the first three Playoff Rounds until four drivers remain. Those four competitors will vie for the championship in the Nov. 7 season finale at Phoenix Raceway, with the highest finisher among them securing the title.

Kyle Larson Is the Championship Favorite, But Is That Status Justified?

Kyle Larson led the NASCAR Cup Series with five victories this season. No other driver had more than three wins.

Larson claimed the regular-season championship and accumulated 52 Playoff points that carry over into each of the three rounds leading up to the season finale.

He starts the postseason with a 28-point edge over second-place Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. and a 47-point advantage over three drivers tied for 12th, all but guaranteeing he won’t be eliminated in the first round.

But can Larson advance all the way to the Championship 4 race and beat three other drivers to claim the championship? Consider that Larson has never been a “final-four” driver, and Cliff Daniels (who calls the shots for the No. 5 team) has never been a “final-four” crew chief.

Yes, Larson has been the class of the field for most of his first season in Hendrick Motorsports equipment, but if he qualifies for the Championship 4, it will be the first time. As with any top-level professional sport, it’s difficult to win a championship the first time you’re in a position to do so.

The second issue is price. Larson is posted at +240 via DraftKings Sportsbook. Those are meager odds in a 16-driver field. Accordingly, we’re looking elsewhere.

If Experience Counts for Anything, These Drivers Have to Be Considered

Two drivers—Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch—have qualified for the Championship 4 in five of the seven seasons that have been run under the elimination format.

Let’s dispense with Harvick right away. The Stewart-Haas cars have lost the performance edge they had last year, and there’s no indication—given the current freeze on introducing new parts—that Harvick will be able to find speed in the Playoff.

Kyle Busch is another matter. The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is the only active competitor in the Cup Series with more than one championship to his credit. At +650 via DraftKings, he’s a better bet than Larson.

Joey Logano has made the Championship 4 four times, all in even years (like Arnold Palmer at The Masters). But this is an odd-numbered year, and Logano has only one win to his credit this season. That was on dirt, and there’s no dirt in the Playoff.

Martin Truex Jr. likewise has four appearances in the final four and a 2017 championship to show for it. But momentum is not on his side. Though he has three wins this season, Truex hasn’t been to Victory Lane since May 9 at Darlington.

Denny Hamlin has qualified for the Championship 4 three times, including the last two seasons, but the No. 11 team has never brought its “A” game to the final race when faced with a chance to win the title. In 2020 and 2021, Hamlin was fourth among the four drivers who battled for the crown.

This season will be no different. Though the schedule once again sets up for Hamlin to make the final four, someone else will win the championship.

These Drivers Are Most Likely to Advance by Winning Races in the Playoff

Ryan Blaney enters the Playoff with excellent momentum, having won the last two regular-season races. Even though he brings 24 Playoff points to the postseason, we’re not on the Blaney bandwagon just yet.

Our picks to qualify for the Championship 4 are Kyle Larson (+240 to win the title), defending champion Chase Elliott (+550), Kyle Busch (+650) and Denny Hamlin (+750). Why? Because all are capable of winning races, and a victory earns automatic advancement to the next round.

Larson leads the series in wins with five. Kyle Busch and Elliott have two each. Hamlin, though winless this season, boasts eight combined career wins at Round of 16 tracks and 11 combined career wins at Round of 8 tracks.

Elliott has won the last two races at the Charlotte Roval (the cutoff event in the Round of 12) and will be favored to win a third straight. Last year he triumphed at Martinsville (cutoff in the Round of 8) to advance to the championship race.

The bottom line? We like Elliott to win the season finale at Phoenix and become the first driver to win consecutive titles since Jimmie Johnson claimed his fifth straight in 2010.

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Reid Spencer

Expert on NASCAR

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. Email: [email protected]