Cleat Geeks

Pole Position Prophecies: Round of 16 Predictions

With Richmond now behind us, the field of 16 is set and it’s finally time for the NASCAR playoffs to begin. The drivers that have qualified are (in order from 1st to 16th): Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon, Matt Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray.

The playoffs are split into 4 rounds, the first 3 rounds have 3 races each and at the end of each round the 4 drivers with the lowest points are eliminated. Once the playoff field has been hammered down to only 4 drivers, the last round is simply a winner-take-all race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The races in the first round starts at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend with New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway as the others. Unfortunately for 4 drivers their championship hopes will come to an end at the end of those races. So the big question is: which drivers will be the first ones out?

Kasey Kahne: Kasey Kahne may have won his way into the playoffs, but outside of his Brickyard 400 win (off of what was essentially a lucky caution while he was on a different pit cycle than the leaders) his season has been disappointing overall. Kasey sits 13th in the playoff bracket in a 5-way tie for 11th and is tied for the lowest top-tens in the playoffs. Kasey is also one of only 2 drivers to win there way into the playoffs while sitting below 20th in the standings. And seeing as since his win Kasey hasn’t finished in the top-ten since, it doesn’t look like he’s found the speed or consistency necessary to make it to the next round.

Austin Dillon: Austin Dillon’s situation is almost identical to Kasey Kahne’s. Dillon is the other driver tied for fewest top-tens, is the other of the 2 driver mentioned before who won their way into the playoffs while sitting below 20th off of a border line lucky strategy (a gamble on fuel that paid off in the Coca-Cola 600), and is part of that 5-way tie for 11th. Additionally Dillon only has 2 career top-ten at the 3 tracks of this round (Chicagoland, New Hampshire, & Dover) combined. All of this adds up to slim chances of advancing to the next round.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Ricky Stenhouse Jr appears to have finally had the breakout season Roush Fenway Racing has been waiting for. Not only did Ricky make the playoffs for the first time in his career, but also managed to claim both his 1st and 2nd career victories making him one of only 7 multi-win drivers this season. That being said he hasn’t finished in the top-ten since his win at Daytona in July and he hasn’t finished in the top-ten at Chicagoland since his rookie year. Now Ricky does have a pair of top-tens at New Hampshire, but none of them have come during the fall race and he has struggled at Dover in recent years. Making the playoffs was a step in the right direction, but Stenhouse lacks the consistency and experience to advance any further.

Ryan Blaney: Young Ryan Blaney has raced on a fairly consistent basis so far this season. He’s improved off of last year’s strong rookie campaign adding a win and an additional top-ten and hasn’t gone more than 5 races this season between top-tens. In his only Chicagoland start he walked away with a 4th place finish, but the success at the round 1 tracks stops there. Blaney has finished below 30th in his last 2 Dover starts and has never finished higher than 11th at New Hampshire, and with only 10 points between 7th place and 16th place there just isn’t the room for the learning curve a young driver needs.

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