As of right now, nine drivers have all but clinched spots in the season-ending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with three victories in the first 14 races of 2017.
Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. have two wins apiece.
Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney have all won once.
Those nine are good to go. Joey Logano has a victory but it was encumbered, which means it doesn’t count towards the playoffs because his Team Penske Ford failed inspection after he won at Richmond.
So, that leaves seven playoff spots open and 12 races to fill them. It’s possible there will be seven first-time 2017 winners over the next 12 races. Not likely, but possible. Here’s who I think are the seven drivers most likely to win in the regular season for the first time in 2017 and as a result make the playoffs.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While his final season has been a struggle, Earnhardt has a whole stretch of good tracks coming up for him over the summer, including Daytona, Michigan, Pocono, Bristol, and Richmond. And you know Hendrick Motorsports will move heaven and earth to provide Earnhardt with cars that will get him the speed he needs to get into the playoffs.
Jones had a career-best third-place finish at Pocono on Sunday and he continues to improve. Going back to tracks for the second time will help him as he progresses in his rookie season. And truth be told, the Furniture Row Racing Toyotas, for the most part, have had more speed than the ones from Joe Gibbs Racing.
It’s been an inconsistent second season for the second-generation driver. Elliott’s worst finish in the first eight races of the season was 14th, but in the next four races, his best finish was 24th. He’s had good runs in each of the last two weeks, though, and this summer, he’ll race twice at Michigan, where he was second in both races in 2016.
The 2003 series champion had horrible luck early in the season, getting collected in at least three wrecks that weren’t his fault. But he’s been running better lately and presumably, Joe Gibbs Racing will get its cars faster over the summer.
The last few weeks have been bad for Logano, who ever since the Richmond victory hasn’t finished better than 21st in the subsequent five races. But Team Penske is one of the top organizations in the sport and in the last three years, Logano has made it to the championship round of the playoffs twice. They will correct their problems
After a bit of a sluggish stretch earlier in the season, Harvick and the Stewart-Haas Racing crew have really picked it up of late, finishing a close second to Ryan Blaney Sunday at Pocono. Harvick has led 514 laps this year and in the last eight races, he’s finished worse than ninth only once.
Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team have endured a lot of bad luck this year. Busch has led 703 laps this year, second only to Martin Truex Jr., and he’s led the most laps on a number of occasions, including last Sunday at Pocono. Busch has two poles and top-five qualifying efforts in each of the last four races. He’s going to win soon and when he does, he could win a lot.