2023 Playoff Predictions – Take Two
I hope everybody had a great Memorial Day weekend and holiday. After rain in the Charlotte area and a few times rescheduling, NASCAR was finally able to get the Cup Series and Xfinity series races ran on Monday. Back in January I did my 2023 Playoff Predictions before the regular season started. For those who haven’t seen the list here is who I said would make the playoff:
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
With 50% of the drivers on the list already locked into the playoffs with wins, there are four drivers I have given up on halfway through the season. Plus, we need to make room for drivers that are locked in that I didn’t pick.
Here are the drivers that will miss the playoffs.
This was my wildcard pick for the season. A.J. brings the experience and with how strong Justin Haley looked towards the end of last season for Kaulig Racing, I figured A.J. would be able to point his way into the playoffs. However, with how the season is going so far, they should consider finishing top 20 in points at the end of the season a win. He currently sits in 25th in regular season and projected playoff standings. Unless he pulls out a road course win, he will be on the outside looking in on the playoffs.
The 2022 Dayton 500 winner is the only Team Penske driver not locked into the playoffs in the first half of the season. According to driveraverages.com, Cindric is qualifying well with an average starting position of 13.8. However, he is having an average finish of 22.29. With only 2 DNFs in points paying races this season, it seems that this team just doesn’t have the pace as the rest of Team Penske. They are going to have a hard time digging themselves out of 21st in the points standings.
This one is a hard cut for me. With the experience Gibbs got filling in for Kurt Busch last season, I expected him to hit the ground running in his first full-time season in the Cup Series. In 8 out of the 14 races this season, Gibbs has finished lower than his starting position. In all fairness 3 of those 8 races were DNFs, but that still leaves 5 out of 11 races in the ones that he finished. He has had flashes this season and I 100% believe that he will be a star in the Cup Series one day. However, that will not be this year and he will miss the playoffs by 1 or 2 positions.
Briscoe is currently in 17th place in points only 4 points behind Alex Bowman. He has only had 1 DNF this season at Daytona and has looked great on short tracks so far this season. There is one big flaw so far and that is consistency. The #14 team has 4 top 10 finishes this season, with all of them being at short tracks except for finishing 4th at Talladega. His highest finishes outside of those was 12th at Richmond, which is still basically a short track, and 15th at COTA. While they could win and lock in at a short track its looking pretty slim with the only track under a mile left before the playoffs is Richmond.
There are two drivers already locked into the playoffs that I didn’t pick. Those drivers are Christopher Bell and the biggest surprise of the season so far in the Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. That leaves us with two open spots.
Bubba has had an underrated season so far. While he only had 1 top 10 finish in the first 7 races, he has drastically improved since the Bristol Dirt Race. Since Bristol he has finished 12th or higher in every race except for Talladega where he was involved in an accident. He currently sits in 15th place, 30 regular season points behind Joey Logano, so not a great place to be in points, but most of the races left to be ran fit well with his driving ability.
In the final 12 races there are, two superspeedway style tracks in Daytona and Talladega, and four road course races. Bubba is hands down a top 5 superspeedway driver right now and is very underrated as a road course racer. While it’s very hard to compete with Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, and Tyler Reddick at road courses, I expect him to at minimum have top 10 finishes at all the road courses and stretch his 35-point lead over 17th place.
The #17 team has been the model of consistency all season. He has finished in the top 10 in 6 out of 14 races. With only 1 DNF this season he is finishing top 10 in 46.15% of all the races he finishes so far this season. They have a very comfortable 76-point lead above 17th place and if they keep up the consistency, they should have no issue pointing their way into the playoffs.
The only driver outside of the playoffs right now that I would guarantee will win their way in is Chase Elliott. He is suspended this week after hooking Denny Hamlin on the front stretch at Charlotte, but with four road course races coming up, he is going to win at least one. That is going to leave 7 spots open for drivers to point their way in, making plenty of room for Buescher.
Lock it in. There’s my final prediction for the playoffs this season. There are a couple of notable big names that came off the list and not mentioned, but whenever somebody wins, somebody has to lose. We’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out.