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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

Six Bold Predictions For The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs

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The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are here, so let’s get right to it.

Over the next 10 weeks, 16 drivers will compete for the 2017 Cup championship. Four will be eliminated after the third, sixth and ninth races, meaning the field will shrink from 16 drivers in Round 1 to 12 in Round 2, eight in Round 3 and four for the one-race championship round.

In those first three rounds, the drivers will carry over the playoff points they’ve earned this year to date. To give you an idea of how big that gap is, top seed Martin Truex Jr. has 2.053 points, while 16th-seed Jamie McMurray has just 2,003.

For the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the four championship contenders will all start with 5,000 points. Whoever has the best finish of the four in that race will be crowned the 2017 Cup champion. No playoff points, no bonus points, just finish ahead of the other three drivers and you win.

So with the playoffs here, time for 6 bold predictions for the championship stretch:

  1. There will be another first-time winner

Thirteen of the 16 drivers in the playoffs have won races already.  But it’s highly likely that at least someone not in the championship hunt wins one of the 10 remaining playoff races. I like Erik Jones’ chances to win one of the 10, and I also like Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win at Talladega.

  1. Encumbered finishes

NASCAR has gotten serious with scofflaws, but that hasn’t stopped teams from pushing the envelope too far. So far, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin have had encumbered finishes because their race-winning cars failed post-race inspection. There likely will be others to follow.

  1. A top seed misses final four

The top-four playoff seeds are Martin Truex Jr.(2,053 points), Kyle Larson (2,033), Kyle Busch (2,029) and Brad Keselowski (2,019). I will say it right now: At least one of these four will be eliminated before Homestead.

  1. No 8thchampionship

I believe Jimmie Johnson will go on to set the NASCAR record by winning his eighth Premier Series championship, but not this year. None of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets has run up front much. Unthinkable as this might be, Johnson has not led a single lap in the last nine Cup races. Not one.

  1. First-time champion

The top-two seeds, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson, are looking for their first championships and have a great chance to get it this year. And as well as the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have been running, don’t count Denny Hamlin out, either. This could be the year for a first-time champion.

  1. Late-race caution at Homestead

Since NASCAR adopted the 16-driver field for the playoffs in 2014, the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway has seen a late-race yellow flag every time. The Homestead race is scheduled for 267 laps. In 2014, there was a caution for debris in Turn 1 on Lap 263. In 2015, there was a yellow flag on Lap 258 for debris on the frontstretch, and last year there was a caution on Lap 264 for an accident in Turn 2. History suggests we’ll have another yellow in the final 10 laps at Homestead this time around.

All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017 

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen is a veteran motorsports journalist. He spent 13 years with FOXSports.com, where he was Digital Content Manager. Previously, he was executive editor of NASCAR Scene and managing editor of National Speed Sport News. Jensen served as the president of the National Motorsports Press Association and is the group’s former Writer of the Year.