2023 Playoff Predictions
There are drivers and teams that you expect to make the playoffs every year. Hendrick Motorsports, JGR, and Team Penske will take up at least 8-9 playoff spots. These three teams are the top tier of NASCAR right now and with the amount of talent and resources that these teams have, they could even take up 11 if all their drivers make the playoffs. That leaves us with only 5-8 playoff spots available for all the other drivers in the field. My locks for the playoffs this season would be Larson, Elliot, Byron, Hamlin, Bell, Truex, Logano, and Blaney.
Drivers To Miss 2023
I talked about my expectations for the season in general in another blog and I believe that the top tier teams will return to domination this year. With that, there are going to be some drivers that had 1 or maybe 2 wins last season that are not going to make it this year.
Let’s start with Austin Dillon. With Kyle Busch moving over to Richard Childress Racing (RCR), Dillon is going to move to their #2 driver. While Austin being Richard’s grandson surely gives him pull around there, the ceiling for his season isn’t anywhere close to what Kyle’s could be. His season was full of inconsistency, bad finishes, and just a little bit of luck. Him and his former teammate Tyler Reddick tied with Corey Lajoie for the second most DNFs (did not finish) last season with 8. He did have a season high with a single win at Daytona for the last race of the regular season. That race was poorly called with the weather and turned into a wreck fest with only 16 cars actually finishing the race. His 11 top 10s and 24 laps led last season don’t give me any confidence that he will make a step forward to make the playoffs again this year.
Daniel Suarez had a career year last year. Trackhouse Racing was at the front of the field pretty much every single week and they put the bigger teams on their heels last season. History tends to repeat itself though and Suarez doesn’t have a great track record so far. I hope that I am wrong, and he continues to move forward at Trackhouse. He brings great personality to the sport, but in 6 seasons in the cup series he has an average finish of 19th and has been very inconsistent. He has had 3 good seasons and 3 bad seasons. They lineup every other time. So, to follow a career year statistically, he will probably regress.
Wild Card Teams
Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) as a whole is a wild card this coming season. Kevin Harvick is entering his final season in the cup series. After a mediocre first half of the season, he pulled out 2 wins, and made the playoffs in 2022. The start to his season wasn’t entirely his fault though as SHR struggled as an entire team most of the season. Briscoe started off the season strong with a win at Phoenix but didn’t do much after that. He was in contention for a win at the Bristol Dirt Race before he spun himself and Tyler Reddick out trying to make a pass for the lead. Almirola is coming back for this season but didn’t do much after saying he was going to retire and then didn’t. Cole Custer has been replaced in the #41 by Ryan Preece. Harvick, Briscoe, and Almirola all have race winning ability. If they can get this Next Gen car finally dialed in they could be major players for the playoffs this year.
Another wild card team will be 23XI Racing. This team is the biggest wild card of them all. With the addition of Tyler Reddick this team could legitimately contend for the championship this season. Bubba Wallace is starting to drive a bit more consistently. He still needs to take another step forward, but he did win at Kansas and had a 4-race string of top 10s. 23XI has backing from JGR, one of the top tier teams of NASCAR, so we know they have quality equipment. Reddick won 3 races last season and I expect him to win at least that many if not more. This team should have both drivers in the playoffs this season making deep runs through the playoffs.
Lasty, Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing (RFK) may creep up on some people this season. After they swept the duels at Daytona to start the year, there wasn’t much to celebrate. A decent run at Atlanta was negated by a gigantic 100-point penalty and $100,000 fine for Keselowski basically eliminating him from playoff contention. Buescher had a runner-up finish at Sonoma and both drivers sprinkled in a top 10 finish here and there. Most of their finishes though were back towards the back fighting just to try and finish 18th.
After Sonoma though we did start to see more consistent finishes for both drivers. Both drivers were in contention to win at the Bristol Night Race with Buescher eventually getting the win after Keselowski blew a tire in the lead. Looking at the final points, if Keselowski hadn’t gotten that big fine, he would’ve been just above Buescher in points at 20th even with the up and down year that they had. If they can continue running like they did through the second half of the season, they could point their way into one of those playoff spots at minimum.
Who Is All Going To Make It?
I know I went through and said some possibilities, but here is my list of drivers that I think will be in the playoffs this season in no particular order.
1) Tyler Reddick
2) Kyle Larson
3) Chase Elliott
4) Denny Hamlin
5) Joey Logano
6) Ryan Blaney
7) Martin Truex, Jr.
8) William Byron
9) Austin Cindric
10) Ross Chastain
11) Kyle Busch
12) Ty Gibbs
13) Kevin Harvick
14) Brad Keselowski
15) Chase Briscoe
16) A.J. Allmendinger
I am going to give myself 1 chance to review this list after the All-Star Race. However, I think that everyone on this list can make the playoffs based off wins or points. The only names on my list right now that I am on the fence about are Kyle Busch and Austin Cindric. Busch should be able to get 1 win on talent alone and Cindric being at Penske means he will have winning equipment. Don’t sleep on A.J. Allmendinger. He will be running full time in the Cup series this season and is in the best racing shape he has ever been in.
There are a couple of drivers not on here that I’m sure some people are surprised by like Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. With Ty Gibbs coming in to be the new superstar of JGR, someone will end up being help back some. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, resources can only be divided so many ways. Bell was also up and down last year, getting hot in the playoffs, but was mediocre most of the year. I left Bowman off the list with a question mark next to his name. Bowman didn’t come back from his injury until Phoenix, and he did not look good. Which after an injury like his is totally understandable. The jury is just out on him until he gets some races in this season.
There are going to be a few drivers from last year miss the playoffs, but most are going to stay the same. You will see a couple of new drivers in this season and some surprise misses from bigger teams. 23XI Racing will be the ones that take the fight to the bigger teams this year with Stewart-Haas Racing and Rousch Fenway Keselowski Racing making some noise in the playoffs as well. With the “win and you’re in” mentality though, anything could happen.