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Who Are the Championship Favorites Heading into the Round of 12?

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Joshua Lipowski

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The Round of 16 of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs went well for a few Championship favorites, and it even vaulted some into that conversation. Which drivers are now the ones who are in a good position to compete for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship as we head into the Round of 12?

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin was unequivocally the best driver in the Round of 16. He could have and maybe even should have won all three races in the round. His confidence is at an all-time high as was evidenced by his declaration to the fans following his statement win at the Bristol Night Race last weekend.

Honestly, it is impossible to see any glaring weaknesses in Hamlin as the Playoffs roll on. He is always a threat on superspeedways with Talladega coming up, and he has three road course poles this year with the Roval coming up. He still has Martinsville coming up in the Round of 8 which is one of his best tracks. Everything is pointing towards Denny Hamlin making the Championship 4.

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson is doing what he struggled to do early in the season, finish races. He had two wins and led the series in top-5 finishes throughout the regular season, but he also had six DNFs in the first 19 races. Throughout the entire Round of 16, Larson finished in the top 5 in all three races, led at least 20 laps in all three races, and even won the Southern 500 at Darlington.

If he can keep his car on track like he has for most of the second half of the season, he will be there at Phoenix in November. He has the speed to do it for sure, and it seems the consistency is finally there at the exact right time. Who knows, maybe Larson and Cliff Daniels are doing what Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus used to do, race well-enough throughout the regular season and turn on the jets in the Playoffs.

William Byron

William Byron came into the Playoffs as the top seed, but he was up and down throughout the Round of 16. He recorded a top-5 at Darlington, spun out at Kansas before finishing 15th, and ran well but not spectacular at Bristol to make the Round of 12. Sure, Byron had the largest cushion of anyone in the Round of 16, so there was no incentive to take unnecessary chances with the setup or anything like that.

However, if he wants to win his first Championship, he is going to have to run better than he did in the first round at some point. He is still very much in the conversation, but it is hard to call him the favorite he was considered throughout much of the regular season. Then again, he does have five wins, so, he and his team are more than capable of coming up big.

Chris Buescher

Chris Buescher quietly had a very good Round of 16. Kansas was a blip on the radar, but he sandwiched that in between top-5 runs at Darlington and Bristol. He may not be the odds-on favorite to win the big trophy at the end of the season, but, if he keeps this up consistently, he will be there at Phoenix.

The issue with Buscher is that he only has a 10-point gap over the cut-line. That puts him at a disadvantage if he has one bad race and even to the guys in front of him. Once the Round of 8 comes around, Buescher may run well, but if the wrong guys finish ahead of him, it will not matter.

Martin Truex Jr.

The only reason Martin Truex Jr. is even in the Playoffs right now is because of his 36 bonus points earned in the Regular Season. He was awful in the Round of 16. Kansas was not totally his fault as his tire was cut down by debris almost as soon as the green flag dropped, but at Bristol and Darlington, he was just slow.

If Truex Jr. does not pick it up, he won’t even make the Round of 8 let alone win a Championship. However, his regular season performance and 25-point buffer to the cut-line keep him in the conversation at least for now. If his performance continues into the Round of 8, then Truex Jr. will be out of this conversation.

The NASCAR Cup Series Championship is still wide open heading into the Round of 12. Whoever was strong in one round may not be as strong in the next round. However, these are the drivers to beat if anyone wants to win the NASCAR Cup Series Championship.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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