There’s a really good chance a playoff driver will win at Kansas.
Sunday’s race is the first race of the three-race semifinal round of NASCAR’s Cup Series playoffs. In the semifinals, eight drivers compete to be among the four racing for the title in NASCAR’s winner-take-all championship race season finale.
The easiest way to secure a chance at the championship is to win a playoff race. And someone is very likely to secure one of those four spots on Sunday.
2020 is the seventh year of NASCAR’s elimination playoff format. In each of the first two seasons, two of the three semifinal races were won by drivers who weren’t on the playoffs. In the four years since, just one non-playoff driver has won a semifinal race. That driver was Matt Kenseth in the penultimate race of the 2017 season.
It’s hard to see the pattern breaking in 2020. The eight drivers remaining in the playoffs have combined to win 28 of the 32 races so far this season. And no driver out of the playoffs has won more than one race this season.
If you’re going to bet on the race this weekend you need to be betting on a playoff driver.
Here’s how the playoff standings look after the second round.
1. Kevin Harvick, 4,067
2. Denny Hamlin, 4,054
3. Brad Keselowski, 4,035
4. Chase Elliott, 4,027
5. Joey Logano, 4,022
6. Martin Truex Jr., 4,017
7. Alex Bowman, 4,009
8. Kurt Busch, 4,006
BetMGM’s championship odds don’t look much different than the standings. Joey Logano is the best value on the list relative to his position in the points.
Kevin Harvick: +150
Denny Hamlin: +220
Chase Elliott: +700
Brad Keselowski: +700
Martin Truex Jr.: +900
Joey Logano: +1400
Alex Bowman: +3000
Kurt Busch: +3000
Harvick and Hamlin are so far ahead of the rest of the group for good reason. They’ve combined to win 16 races in 2020. And it’ll be a stunner if neither of them are racing for the title at Phoenix.
Sunday, Oct. 17, 2:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
The favorites: Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick (+425 each)
Best bets among the favorites
Martin Truex Jr. (+500)
Truex has just one win in 2020 but here are his finishes over the last four intermediate track races: fourth, third, third and third. Truex led 196 laps at Darlington in September before he hit the wall racing for the lead late. Truex should have very good speed on Sunday and will challenge Denny Hamlin for the title of fastest Joe Gibbs Racing car.
Brad Keselowski (+800)
Just one of Keselowski’s four wins have come at tracks over a mile — and his Charlotte win was a race that was Chase Elliott’s to lose — but he’s been solid at intermediate tracks all season. Keselowski was second to Denny Hamlin at Kansas in July and seems due to snap out of a playoff funk. Keselowski hasn’t finished any better than 13th in the four races since he won at Richmond.
Best bets among the longshots
Alex Bowman (+2200)
Bowman’s quietly been excellent since late August. He’s finished in the top 20 in every race since he was 21st in the Saturday race at Dover and has six top-10 finishes in that timeframe. Bowman was eighth at Kansas in July and was fifth at Las Vegas in the last intermediate track race.
Erik Jones (+3500)
Jones is on an absolute roll right now. He hasn’t finished any lower than eighth in each of the last four races and was fourth at Darlington over Labor Day weekend. Yeah, we said that it’s extremely unlikely that a non-playoff driver wins. But we’re in the longshot category here. And Jones is as good a bet as anyone in this category to get to victory lane.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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