Just three weeks remain in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, and eight drivers have a shot at the championship, but just one is locked into the finale.
Sunday at Kansas Speedway, 2018 cup champion Joey Logano won and punched his ticket to the championship round at Phoenix set for Nov. 8.
Logano held off the dominant driver of the year in Kevin Harvick, to grab his third win of the season, but first since before the pandemic stopped the NASCAR season back in March.
This win is extra important because although Logano’s last win on Mar. 12 was over seven months ago, it came at Phoenix, the site of this year’s championship race. Logano will have a one in four shot to win a title at that same track where he went to victory lane in the spring.
The top four positions Sunday were all playoff drivers: Harvick (2nd), Alex Bowman (3rd) and Brad Keselowski (4th). Other results included Chase Elliott winning stage one before finishing in sixth, and Martin Truex Jr. ending in ninth.
The two with the worst runs were Denny Hamlin recovering to finish 15th after hitting the wall, and Kurt Busch falling to 38th after his engine expired while running as high as seventh at one point.
It’s a guarantee that at least one of the final four drivers will advance to Phoenix on points, Logano with his win has one spot, leaving two up for grabs.
Next up is Texas Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile quad-oval, similar in configuration to both Charlotte Motor Speedway’s standard layout and Atlanta Motor Speedway.
In the summer, Austin Dillon won at Texas surprising many and earning a spot in the playoffs. Dillon advanced through the first round, but was eliminated following the Oct. 11 race at the Charlotte Roval, ending his ‘Cinderella run.’
While Texas can produce surprises in the spring and summer, the fall race has seen recurring trends of dominance. Everyone in the garage has one driver as the man to beat this Sunday…it’s Kevin Harvick.
The No.4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has won the last three fall races at Texas, and a total of nine races this season.
A win Sunday would make Harvick the second driver to win the event four years in a row, with Jimmie Johnson winning it consecutively from 2012-15.
It would also be the first time a driver has won 10 races in a season since Johnson in 2007, a year that ended with the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team winning their second of a record five consecutive championships from 2006-10.
Harvick finished fifth in this year’s summer race at Texas. Many believe the only way he loses Sunday is if his team beats themselves on pit road or if he gets caught up in a wreck.
However, there are a few drivers that could challenge the No. 4 car Sunday. Ryan Blaney is no longer in the championship hunt, but could play spoiler in this race. Blaney led 150 laps in the summer race and finished seventh.
The most likely playoff drivers to compete with Harvick for the win are Hamlin, who won at Texas in the spring of 2019, and Logano, who could prevent Harvick from locking into the final four with a second straight win.
Keslowski currently has the last spot in the championship round and is eight points ahead of fifth place Elliott. Kurt Busch, with his poor result at Kansas, is -73 to the cutline and will likely have to win this Sunday’s race or the following week at Martinsville to advance.
Speaking of Martinsville, the race on Nov. 1 at the half-mile Virginia short track will be the last chance to make the final round at Phoenix. Martin Truex Jr. won under the lights in the first race at the track on June 10. It was his second in a row at Martinsville, winning last fall’s race too.
Don’t hand him the trophy yet though, the fall Martinsville race has seen six different winners in the last seven years. The only repeat winner in that stretch being NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Jeff Gordon in 2013, and his final career win in 2015.
The season is coming to a close and of the eight drivers left with a chance at the cup, five have won it once, none twice, and three never at all, those being Hamlin, Elliott, and Bowman.
Somehow 33 races are complete. The 2020 season is already one that will be remembered forever, all that remains is who ends up on the right or wrong side of history?