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Rocky road ahead: NASCAR drivers talk upcoming round, no clear favorite

by Michael Haag | Posted on Sunday, September 25th, 2022

Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Summering Toyota, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, lead the field to start the NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway on June 13, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)


By Michael Haag

FORT WORTH, Texas – Ahead of Sunday’s 18th annual AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, multiple NASCAR Cup Series drivers gave their thoughts on the current state of the playoffs. As of right now, the overall verdict is that there is no clear head honcho on the standings that can be a shoe-in to win the championship. 

(Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Hendrick Motorsports, was first to speak on that notion. Larson said with the upcoming slate of TMS, Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course (ROVAL).

“I don’t think you can pick a favorite until you get through this round,” Larson said. “Whoever the favorite is right now could easily not make it into the next round just because [of] how wild this round is. Three weeks from now, you’ll be able to pick a better favorite.”

With the Next Gen car and the way the standings are so spread, the Elk Grove, Ca. native said there won’t be a clear favorite until the Round of 8. 

To add to the madness, the last three Cup Series races have been won by non-playoff drivers, keeping the standings relatively confined and tight. Larson found some grace regarding that stat, as he said, “If I can’t win, I’d rather see a non-playoff guy win.”

 (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

A different perspective was brought up by Chris Buescher, last week’s winner and driver of the No. 17 Ford Mustang for RFK Racing. Buescher said previous results have proved how wide open the possibility of a championship still is.

“Pretty wild first round of playoffs,” Buescher said. “It shows that there was a really high potential for race winners not to make the playoffs this year. Can you imagine if we got down to it and we had not just one but two drivers that have won races that were kicked out of competing for that championship? Sitting there thinking, ‘Man we had a breakout year and we don’t even get to try.’” 

For Alex Bowman, he said the round is “uncomfortable” and that Sunday’s race along with the other two are tough. Bowman said the field can’t control their own destiny at these racetracks and that “you have what you have” at them. 

(Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

The 29-year-old from Tucson, Ariz. said there is one thing that can give drivers some insurance despite the wild round.

“Stage points are the most important thing going right now,” Bowman said. “We’re all going to be all-in on stage points, which could create some interesting situations.”

Bowman said that although he expects a playoff driver to break the three-race, winless drought on Sunday, “anybody can make it happen still” across the entire board for a championship.

Back on May 22, 2022, TMS hosted the NASCAR All-Star Race that saw Ryan Blaney notch his first win outside of the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series. Blaney said the current round is something you can’t downplay and that Sunday’s race will showcase some aggression.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“You’re definitely worried about this round,” Blaney said. “Winning here is going to put you a lot more at ease at Talladega, so everyone’s going to be gunning to win here. It’ll be a dogfight for sure.” 

Switching gears, Chase Briscoe echoed Larson’s comments about how wild the racing at these tracks are within this round. Briscoe said it “creates so many opportunities to lose a lot of points that are out of your control.”

In years past, by this point in the season there was usually a couple of drivers that were the clear favorites. When asked whether he likes that unpredictability, Briscoe said it depends where you are on the leaderboard. 

“If you’re the guy at the top of the points, you probably don’t like the unpredictability of it,” Briscoe said. “If you’re in our position where nobody expects us to be moving on, then it’s exciting because you have that opportunity.” 

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Brad Keselowski, pole-sitter for Sunday’s race, echoed the verdict that there really is an equal opportunity to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship. He said parity is no surprise with the new car and adjustments that have been made across the board, but that eventually it will dwindle away and favorites will emerge in future years of the sport.

“There’s more parity now in some ways than ever before,” Keselowski said. “I expect that parity to go away to some extent as time goes by and some of the variableness of the racing to go away.”

About the Author

Michael Haag is a Journalism student at Baylor University in Waco, TX. He is also Sports Editor for the school's student newspaper, the Baylor Lariat. He has covered the 2022 Allstate Sugar Bowl and multiple Texas Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the site in Waco. Michael has covered Baylor football, men's and women's basketball, baseball and more for the Baylor Lariat. He plans to finish in the spring of 2025 with a bachelor's degree in news-editorial journalism.