With four races to go before the NASCAR Cup Series postseason begins at Darlington Raceway (Sept. 4), only two spots remain up for grabs in the playoff standings. Ryan Blaney (+121) and Martin Truex Jr. (+96) occupy those last two spots, but can they find a way to secure their position — or will drivers outside the playoffs currently find Victory Lane to take the spots?
Let’s take a look at the remaining tracks on the Cup regular-season schedule and evaluate which winless drivers have the best chance to win on each.
MORE: Playoffs — who’s in, out?
Michigan: Kevin Harvick
Analysis: Sure, the Next Gen car has shaken up the hierarchy of the Cup Series but a constant in NASCAR’s premier series has been Harvick’s success at Michigan International Speedway. Entering Sunday’s race (3 pm ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM), he’s won four of the last six races on the 2-mile oval and had a stretch of four-consecutive runner-up finishes in 2013 and 2014 If any winless driver is grabbing the checkered flag at Michigan, it will be Harvick.
Richmond: Martin Truex Jr.
Analysis: There was a time when you wouldn’t consider Truex as a race-winning contender on a short track, but since a runner-up finish at Martinsville Speedway in the fall race of 2017, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has mastered the art of short – track racing in the state of Virginia. At Richmond, Truex is currently on a streak of seven consecutive top fives with three wins in the last six races at the 0.75-mile oval. With the playoff picture as tight as ever, this is going to be the race Truex needs to circle as a must-win.
Watkins Glen: Ryan Blaney
Analysis: While the numbers at Watkins Glen don’t point to Blaney being a favorite, his stretch on road courses this year has surely been an eye-opener. You can dump the 26th-place result at the Indianapolis Road Course last Sunday as Blaney was one of many casualties in Turn 1 and was spun on the overtime restart while running in the top five. He was also able to manage his tires and stayed out front for a big chunk of the race, leading 17 laps. Outside of Indy, Blaney won the pole and finished sixth at Circuit of The Americas, scored a sixth-place finish at Sonoma Raceway and tallied an 11th-place result at Road America, picking up a stage win in the process. Blaney has been one of the most consistent drivers on road courses this season, and Watkins Glen is the place for the Team Penske driver to make sure that all three Penske teams compete for a title.
Daytona: Justin Haley
Analysis: Hear me out. As crazy as it would be, are we really going to be surprised if the one-time Cup winner is able to score another stunning victory at Daytona International Speedway? Superspeedways are about surviving until the final lap and that’s what Haley does at the Cup level on these types of tracks. Haley showed his competence and ability to get to the front at superspeedways with all four of his Xfinity Series wins coming at either Daytona or Talladega. With 11 career Cup starts on superspeedways (Atlanta’s reconfiguration included), Haley has only DNF’d once and it came at his first Cup superspeedway race at Talladega in the spring of 2019. He’s also flown under the radar this season with an average finish of 18.5 — better than Chris Buescher (18.8), Brad Keselowski (19.2), Bubba Wallace (19.4) and Denny Hamlin (20.0). With most of the field going “checkers or wreckers” to get into the playoffs, Haley’s likely to be one of the drivers left standing when the checkered flag flies.