The NASCAR Cup Series season is now 16 races old, and the Championship is still wide open. With 10 more races until the Playoffs, different drivers are set to be true contenders come the postseason. Who are the top five true Championship contenders in the NASCAR Cup Series.
William Byron (2nd in Points; 3 wins)
William Byron currently has the most wins, most top-5s, laps led, and stage wins in the Cup Series right now. If that 60 point penalty does not happen at Richmond, Byron is 47 points ahead in the points standings. He has statistically been the best driver in the Cup Series all season long, and nothing seems to be changing that.
Byron has run well at a variety of tracks winning at intermediates in Las Vegas and Darlington, and also winning at a shorter track in Phoenix. With Hendrick Motorsports backing, he is also a definite threat at super speedways and short tracks. Road course racing is probably his weakest link, but he can more than make up for it with his performance on other tracks.
While he has been the best driver in the Cup Series, it’s been far from a perfect season for Byron. It’s not like he has dominated like Jeff Gordon in the 1990s, so Byron still needs to maintain this to the end of the season.
Martin Truex Jr. (1st in Points; 2 Wins)
Martin Truex Jr. is now mathematically locked into the playoffs with his win at Sonoma last weekend. He absolutely dominated last weekend, and now he has the points lead. It’s big to see Truex Jr. running so well following how last season went.
Some wondered after last season if Truex Jr. may be coming to the end of his career, but those conversations have died down following his resurgence this season. He has quietly worked his way into the points lead after flying under the radar during the early portion of the season.
He does have something that a guy like William Byron does not have, Championship experience. Truex Jr. has made multiple Championship Fours and won the Cup Series Championship in 2017. If a savvy veteran wins the Championship, Truex Jr. is the guy most likely to lift the trophy.
Kyle Larson (10th in Points; 2 Wins)
Kyle Larson has been up-and-down throughout the season. However, his raw speed cannot be denied. When he is not involved in an incident, he is either at or near the front.
If Larson can start putting multiple good races together in a row, watch out. He has the speed to compete every week, and when he competes he tends to dominate. Look no further than how he dominated at North Wilkesboro during the All-Star Race.
The other factor is that if Larson does indeed make it to the Championship Four, he was the one who led the most laps at Phoenix back in March. Larson is good at Phoenix, and he has Championship experience like Truex Jr. All Larson needs is some consistency.
Kyle Busch (6th in Points; 3 Wins)
Kyle Busch is a man on a mission this year. After 15 seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch is seems to have a chip on his shoulder to prove what he can do with another team. For the first time in a long time, Richard Childress Racing is a serious Championship threat.
While Busch won two races early in the season, he was not exceptionally consistent falling as low as 12th in the points standings. Post-Kansas, it seems Busch has finally found his groove with four straight top-10s and a dominant win at Gateway.
Busch seems like he is beginning to rid himself of the hot-cold type of racing he had early in the season. Now that he has developed some consistency, there is no telling how good Kyle Busch could be later in the season.
Ryan Blaney (3rd in Points; 1 Win)
Before a difficult outing at Sonoma, Blaney was on a streak of six top-10 finishes in seven races. He has the consistency part down, and his win at Charlotte proves that he still has race winning speed. If he can start putting more wins together consistently, that is what will push him over the top.
The problem with Blaney throughout his career is that, while he consistently runs well, he does not win a lot of races. With this points system, winning races is at a premium.
If Blaney starts putting together wins more consistently, then he will be a truly serious championship contender. His recent runs show that that may be just around the corner.
It’s hard to predict exactly who will be in the Championship Four at this point in the season, but each of these guys have good chances to be in it. The Playoffs will be the ultimate litmus test.