Of course they can!
But it is an interesting look at the way the playoffs are shaping up.
Take Texas for instance. Kyle Larson dominated the race and a few playoff drivers kept their hopes alive but the Top 5 was actually dominated by drivers who have already been eliminated and 5 of the Top 10 drivers aren’t even in the playoffs.
That kind of finish is not what the championship contenders want to see.
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Brad Keselowski finished 4th but sits 15 below the cut line.
Chase Elliott finished 7th but sits 8 below the cut line.
What were two very respectable finishes in a race dominated by one driver were not enough to position them for the championship race.
Joey Logano and Martin Truex, Jr. are probably very nervous right now. Logano (P30) lost an engine and Truex (P25) got caught up in an accident. Climbing out of the cellar for both of them will be very tough right now. It is essentially must win territory for both, unless another driver ahead of them wrecks out.
Logano has a win in 2020 at Kansas but finished 17th in the spring race. Truex finished 6th but as we saw at Texas, a Top 10 run doesn’t help when your competition is also getting Top 10 finishes.
The two most interesting drivers to watch right now are Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch. Busch has won at Kansas and Blaney has just an average finish on intermediate tracks but he does have a quiet momentum that Logano is missing.
Martinsville may be the make or break race for a couple of drivers. In the last seven races, MTJ has won three, Logano one and Blaney is winless but tied with Logano for the 2nd best finishing position. Elliott and Keselowski round out as winners in the last seven Kansas races.
What does all this mean? Even if the standings are close to where they are right now heading to Martinsville, a win by MTJ or Logano solves all problems and puts Elliott, Busch, Blaney and Kes in trouble.
While the playoff format is interesting, I still have issues with the winner takes all approach in the final race. Larson has an awesome season going but MTJ has 4 wins, Blaney 3, Hamlin, Elliott and Rowdy each have 2. Hamlin has been one of the top two drivers all year but now trails Blaney by four points (which I think will change after Kansas). I would be OK seeing Hamlin win it all since he has had an awesome season sitting at the top of the points most of the year, but what if Rowdy got on a late season run and beat both Larson and Hamlin for his second title? Is that good for NASCAR?
Hard to say but it is the hand we are dealt as fans right now.
How do you feel about someone other than Larson, with the most wins by far, walking away with the title? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!
(Featured Photo by Jim Fluharty/HHP for Chevy Racing)