Previewing the 2018 NASCAR Playoffs

Here is a preview of the drivers and teams who have made the 2018 NASCAR playoffs and have a chance at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

The field for the 2018 NASCAR Playoffs have been set. A total of 16 drivers will battle it out over the course of ten races until one is crowned champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Here are the 16-driver previews for the 2018 NASCAR Playoffs and a prediction of where they will finish.

Kyle Busch

Playoff points: 50
Regular season finish:
2017 standings: 2
Career best finish: 1 (2016)

Kyle Busch enters the NASCAR playoffs as the regular season champion. He is tied with Kevin Harvick for most playoff points. Busch performs well on almost every single track in the NASCAR playoffs.

Theoretically, Busch will have plenty of playoff points to reach the Round of 8. Once in the Round of 8, Busch should be able to rely on his playoff points but if Harvick and Truex are still around, winning will still be the best option to secure a spot in Homestead.

Reaching Homestead is expected for this team and the same could probably be said for winning the championship. The expectations for Busch and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team is a chance at another championship.

Kevin Harvick

Playoff points: 50
2017 standings: 3
Career best finish: 1 (2014)

Kevin Harvick enters the NASCAR Playoffs with the momentum of a strong regular season. Tied with Kyle Busch, Harvick has been part of “The Big Three” all year long and hopes to ride that wave all the way to Homestead.

With such a big points cushion heading into the NASCAR playoffs, Harvick will have to balance the points cushion and going for wins.

“They know that.  We just take it one week at a time.  That’s really the only way that you can approach this is to try and get the most that you can next week, regroup, and then see what you have and go for it the next week.”

Harvick is a favorite to reach the Championship 4 in Homestead and has a real chance to score his second championship.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have their sights set on reaching the Championship 4. (World Copyright: Rusty Jarrett, NKP)

Martin Truex Jr.

Playoff points: 35
2017 standings: 1
Career best finish: 1 (2017)

The defending champion, Martin Truex Jr. enters the NASCAR playoffs on a little bit of a low note. Last week, it was announced that Furniture Row Racing will close their doors in  2019. Leaving Truex looking for a ride. But that’s next year, not now.

Truex has shown speed all season long but has had some of his traditional bad luck thwart out good finishes and wins. If Truex can use a combination of his playoff points and avoiding bad luck like last season, a trip to the Championship 4 for a second straight season seems certain.

Brad Keselowski

Playoff points: 19
2017 standings:
Career best finish: 
 1 (2012)

Brad Keselowski almost went the entire regular season without a win. That was until he found a way to win the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington to cap a weekend sweep and then the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway the following week.

With back-to-back wins, Keselowski has flown under the radar for most of the season but he could be heating up at just the right time. If so, Keselowski could be in contention to reach the Championship 4 in Homestead.

Clint Bowyer

Playoff points: 18
2017 standings: 18
Career best finish: 2 (2012)

Clint Bowyer makes it back to the playoffs after missing the last two. In his second full-time season with Stewart-Haas Racing, Bowyer has also found victory lane.

There are tracks in the final ten races, such as Richmond, Talladega and Martinsville, where Bowyer has excelled at. The expectations for Bowyer will be to at least advance to the Round of 8, if not challenge for the fourth spot in Homestead.

Joey Logano now trails Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski as the NASCAR playoffs begin. (World Copyright: Nigel Kinrade, NKP)

Joey Logano

Playoff points: 14
2017 standings: 17
Career best finish: 2 (2016)

Joey Logano missed the playoffs in 2017 after his runner-up finish in the standings in 2016. Now, Logano is back in the playoff and has more playoff points than 10 other drivers.

Heading into September, Logano looked to be the best Team Penske Ford. Now after Keselowski’s two wins, Logano’s No. 22 team is looking second best among his teammates. With some of his best tracks still remaining in the final ten races, Logano will be aiming for a trip to the Championship 4.

Kurt Busch

Playoff points: 14
2017 standings: 14
Career best finish: 1 (2004)

Kurt Busch enters the NASCAR playoffs and has scored a quiet 14 playoff points during the regular season. Busch has looked like the third best Stewart-Haas Racing Ford for most of the season. But with SHR being so dominant that has sometimes meant being one of the best five cars in the field.

Busch is no stranger to the NASCAR playoffs and knows exactly the approach his team should take.

“We have to stick with our strengths and that is consistency. We’ve qualified well all year. We’ve had good pit strategy and we just have to make sure we don’t make any mistakes that hurt us and we lose a lot of track position.”

Chase Elliott enters the NASCAR playoffs as the best car from Hendrick Motorsports. (World Copyright: Rusty Jarrett, NKP)

Chase Elliott

Playoff points: 8
2017 standings: 5
Career best finish: 5 (2017)

Chase Elliott finally scored his first win during the regular season. His win served as the only win for all of Hendrick Motorsports.

Despite just winning once this season, Elliott will be a favorite among many to reach the Championship 4 at Homestead. Elliott has come close in both of his previous playoff appearances and the expectations will remain the same for the driver of the No. 9.

Ryan Blaney

Playoff points: 7
2017 standings: 9
Career best finish: 9 (2017)

Ryan Blaney didn’t win during the regular season but still enters the playoffs with seven playoff points. After winning a race in 2017 for Wood Brothers Racing, Blaney went winless in his first year with Team Penske.

Blaney has shown speed on almost all of the final ten races remaining on the calendar. If Blaney wants to make a splash in the NASCAR playoffs, he will need to find a way to not just win stages 1 and 2 but also the final stage.

Blaney will have his sights set on the Championship 4 but a trip to the Round of 8 seems most realistic.

Erik Jones

Playoff points: 5
2017 standings: 19
Career best finish: 19 (2017)

Erik Jones scored his first NASCAR Cup Series victory at Daytona in July. That victory solidified his spot in the NASCAR playoffs.

Now the attention turns to advancing each round. This will be Jones’ first NASCAR playoff appearance in the Cup Series but he is used to racing for championships in each of the lower-level series. A trip to the Round of 8 would be great for this team.

Austin Dillon

Playoff points: 5
2017 standings: 11
Career best finish: 11 (2017)

For the second straight season, Austin Dillon has scored a win and secured his spot in the NASCAR playoffs. Dillon and his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team have been waiting since Daytona in February for the playoffs to start.

Dillon advanced to the Round of 12 last season and an improvement on that would be seen as a huge achievement for this team.

Kyle Larson is the only driver from Chip Ganassi Racing to make the NASCAR playoffs this season. (World Copyright: Nigel Kinrade, NKP)

Kyle Larson

Playoff points: 5
2017 standings: 8
Career best finish: 8 (2017)

Kyle Larson didn’t win during the regular season and his total of five playoff points may come as a disappointment for his Chip Ganassi Racing team.

Chevrolet as a manufacturer has struggled during the regular season and to think the NASCAR playoffs will be any different isn’t realistic. Still, if Larson can reach Homestead, he has a legitimate chance at a championship.

Denny Hamlin

Playoff points: 3
2017 standings: 6
Career best finish: 2 (2010)

Denny Hamlin has won in every season he’s raced in the NASCAR Cup Series. Hamlin went winless during the regular season but still has ten more races to change that.

Hamlin will be expected to at least reach the Round of 8 given that he drives one of Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas. If he does, he will have to consistently score top-five finishes in that round to advance to Homestead.

Aric Almirola

Playoff points: 1
2017 standings: 29
Career best finish: 16 (2014)

Aric Almirola is back in the playoffs after a four year hiatus. Despite not scoring a win during the regular season, Almirola showed plenty of speed and at times, outran his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates.

“I feel good about going into the playoff. I feel like we’ve got fast racecars and we’ve got a chance to go up there and compete to win races and go far in the playoffs.”

“But one of these days our luck is going to change, and hopefully it starts this coming week at Las Vegas. And when our luck changes, we’re going to put our Smithfield Ford Fusion in victory lane. We’ve been too fast and had too good of a car lately these last couple of months to not put it all together.”

Advancing to the Round of 8 would be impressive for Almirola and his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing team.

Jimmie Johnson’s quest for a record breaking eighth championship is looking bleak. (World Copyright: Russell LaBounty, NKP)

Jimmie Johnson

Playoff points: 0
2017 standings: 10
Career best finish:  1 (2016, 2013, 2006-2010)

Jimmie Johnson went winless during the regular season and failed to score a single playoff point. The expectations for this team are low, despite the usual championship pedigree shown at this point in the season.

If Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus can somehow find a way to reach the Round of 8, that would be an impressive feat.

Alex Bowman

Playoff points: 0
2017 standings:  N/A
Career best finish:  N/A

In his first season with Hendrick Motorsports, Alex Bowman reach the NASCAR playoffs. If the expectation for the No. 88 team post-Dale Earnhardt Jr. was to reach the playoffs, than that has been achieved.

Bowman has shown flashes of speed but not consistent enough to be considered a real playoff threat. Advancing to the Round of 12 seems like a realistic opportunity.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattlovisa.