NASCAR playoff picture, title odds: Martin Truex Jr. has a huge lead – CBSSports.com

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are getting closer with 22 of 26 regular-season races in the books. When the circuit heads to Chicagoland Speedway in September, 16 drivers will be competing for a championship.

Here is a look at where things stand heading into Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway.

Locked in

Martin Truex Jr.: Simply said, this guy has everyone beat in much the same fashion Jimmie Johnson has dominated the past decade. Truex’s résumé is impressive to say the least, with four race wins and 14 stage victories this year. Truex dominated at Watkins Glen last week and has become a heavy favorite to win the title before the playoffs begin.

Kyle Busch: Rowdy is slowly but surely becoming Truex’s main challenger. After clinching at the Tricky Triangle, Busch continued his success at Watkins Glen finishing in the top 10 and winning his ninth stage of the season. If not for bad luck, Busch could easily be in Truex’s spot. The recent success was enough to propel him ahead of Kyle Larson in the regular-season standings. He could add another win at MIS, a track where he’s won before.

Kyle Larson: No need to push the panic button on Larson, who has been lackluster lately despite strong practice and qualifying results. His two wins and strong performances have him third as he looks to make it three wins in a row at Michigan.

Kevin Harvick: The No. 4 continues to impress for Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick has been one of the most consistent drivers this season which is why he’s fourth in the regular-season standings. Harvick has won at Michigan in the past, so don’t be surprised if he adds some more playoff points this weekend.

Denny Hamlin: The No. 11 jumped Brad Keselowski in the standings after a strong fourth-place finish at Watkins Glen. Hamlin won the Michigan NASCAR Xfinity Series race this season, and could continue his success there Sunday.

Brad Keselowski: Don’t let a 15th-place finish at Watkins Glen confuse you, Keselowski ran a strong race last week. He fell only two laps short of winning as he ran out of fuel. Keselowski never has won at his home-track Michigan, so expect a little extra out of the No. 2 this weekend.

Jimmie Johnson: Only Johnson could get away with wrecking out of three of five races and still be second in the playoff points. He was again disappointing at Watkins Glen, finishing 29th. Johnson has three wins heading into the stretch where he typically puts it together. 

Ryan Blaney: Blaney may be moving to Team Penske next season to drive the No. 12, but he has been fairly disappointing since taking the checkered flag at Pocono in June. Like Keselowski, Blaney had a shot to win last Sunday before running out of fuel in the final laps.

Kurt Busch: A Daytona 500 victory can go a long way. The Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 hasn’t been back to Victory Lane since. Busch has looked good in the Ford, and currently sits in 14th despite questions about what team he’ll drive for next year.

Ryan Newman: An early victory at Phoenix locked Newman into the NASCAR playoff picture, and he has run consistently toward the top since. We’re not sure if he’s a contender for the title just yet, but the veteran will have a shot.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: We already know Stenhouse can absolutely dominate restrictor-plate tracks with wins at Daytona and Talladega, but those won’t be enough to win the crown. Stenhouse will be tested at Michigan this weekend.

Kasey Kahne: It has been an up-and-down past few weeks for Kahne. After winning the Brickyard 400 and clinching a playoff spot a few weeks ago it was announced Kahne will not to drive the No. 5 next season at Hendrick Motorsports. Regardless, he will have a shot at bringing Rick Hendrick a championship this year.

Austin Dillon: You might recall Dillon taking the No. 3 car back to Victory Lane at his hometown track, Charlotte. Dillon hasn’t been all that impressive in stage racing, but either way, he will have a chance to compete for a championship.

In (for now)

Chase Elliott: The No. 24 is currently the first driver in on merit. He looked good at Watkins Glen, racking up some regular-season points placing third in Stage 1. With four races to go, it’s possible Elliott can miss the playoffs.

Jamie McMurray: Here is a driver who hasn’t accumulated any playoff points or wins but has been solid all year. McMurray, who has 11 finishes in the top 10, added a quiet top-15 finish at Watkins Glen.

Matt Kenseth: Still without a job for next season, Kenseth is driving for his career. He nearly caught Truex on the final lap at Watkins Glen en route to a second-place finish, but it simply isn’t good enough. If someone else wins, Kenseth is the first driver out.

Down, but not out (yet)

Clint Bowyer: The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has been pretty good as of late, adding another top-five finish at Watkins Glen. Bowyer hasn’t been all that successful at Michigan, averaging a 17.48 finish for his career. Good news for him though is that the final regular-season race is at Richmond, a track where he’s won.

Joey Logano: Let’s face it folks, Logano is in big trouble. He hasn’t had much success at the remaining regular-season tracks and his team continues to get penalized. The 2016 championship runner-up needs a win in the worst way and hasn’t done much to show he is capable of pulling it off this season.

Daniel Suarez: The rookie made some waves at Watkins Glen with a third-place finish, but that was to be expected on the road course. It did help his case in the standings, as he is now 15th. Even if he doesn’t make the playoffs, Suarez is solidifying himself as a strong young driver.

Erik Jones: The rookie has been impressive in earning a contract with Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the historic No. 20 car next season, but will most likely need his first career win to make it into the playoffs this season. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: We are simply not ready to give up on Junior, and for good reason. Earnhardt had a miserable last-place finish at Watkins Glen but that wasn’t his race to win, anyway. The No. 88 has secured wins at Michigan, Bristol and Richmond over his storied career and repeating at any of those tracks could ensure a playoff spot for the NASCAR legend.

2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season standings

Winless drivers who have won at upcoming tracks

Michigan: Earnhardt Jr., Kenseth
Bristol: Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr.
Darlington: Kenseth
Richmond: Kenseth, Bowyer, Earnhardt Jr.

Odds to win the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Here are the betting odds for the Cup series title, via VegasInsider.com

  • Kyle Busch 4/1
  • Martin Truex Jr. 7/2
  • Kyle Larson 11/2
  • Jimmie Johnson 13/2
  • Kevin Harvick 8/1
  • Brad Keselowski 8/1
  • Denny Hamlin 14/1
  • Chase Elliott 16/1
  • Joey Logano 18/1
  • Matt Kenseth 18/1
  • Ryan Blaney 25/1
  • Clint Bowyer 40/1
  • Kurt Busch 40/1
  • Erik Jones 66/1
  • Jamie McMurray 66/1
  • Ryan Newman 66/1
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 66/1
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. 80/1
  • Austin Dillon 80/1
  • Kasey Kahne 100/1
  • Daniel Suarez 125/1

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