Contenders, Pretenders For 2017 NASCAR Playoffs

rr_mencs_ 2017 playoffs_field

Playoffs? You want to talk about the playoffs? I can’t resist this video morsel in light of Saturday’s debacle at Richmond. Like many of you, this fan would prefer running a season full of races and crowning whomever has the most points as champion. Since that’s not the world we live in, we’ll just go with it.

Sizing up the field of contenders, here’s who we think has a shot to win it all in the 2017 NASCAR playoffs…..

Just Happy To Be Here

Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse and Austin Dillon. I just don’t see any of those four seriously being there at Homestead.

Kasey Kahne will no doubt put his best foot forward as he will be moving on from Hendrick Motorsports. There’s just no feeling that he can string together a winning run. He simply in years, and he won’t now.

Jamie McMurray has won some big races in his life, and we wouldn’t put it past him to win at a superspeedway. But can he string together all the runs necessary to win the 2017 NASCAR playoffs? Historically, Jamie Mac- a nice solid mid-pack driver- isn’t that guy.

Winning at Phoenix earlier this season was a boon for Ryan Newman. Other than that, his career at RCR has been non-descript. Even when he almost became a winless champion, it wasn’t a spectacular season.

I’d put Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon in the same category. They can win races, but they haven’t yet dialed in on the consistency necessary to win it all.

Don’t Count Them Out

Matt Kenseth, Ryan Blaney, and Kurt Busch. Two of these racers have won championships. One of these drivers is a very promising youngster.

Matt Kenseth will win a race in the Chase. He may well have been the driver that got hosed the worst at Richmond. Tales of his demise are a bit exaggerated. The possibility of Matty Ice winning the 2017 NASCAR playoffs seems remote, but I wouldn’t put a Harry Gant style run past him either.

Kurt Busch is one of those drivers for whom things are looking better. If all the other media reports out there are correct, the 2004 champion will return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018 with perhaps a sponsorship from Smithfield Foods in tow. That kind of mojo can inspire confidence.

Ryan Blaney has had some predictable ups and downs. Through the rough days, Blaney has remained relevant. He probably won’t embarrass himself, but as his Wood Bros. apprenticeship winds down, I think he’s got some more learning to do.

More Than Just A Puncher’s Chance

The field for the 2017 NASCAR playoffs is an intriguing mix of former champions, perennial contenders and drivers having career years. In that mix are some drivers you would only ignore at your peril, even if they don’t appear to be in championship form at the moment.

It’s just a feeling about Chase Elliott, and it may be only from too much pizza consumed by yours truly. William Clyde Elliott is due. Arguably the most promising of the young guns, he has yet to cash in that first Cup victory that the likes of Blaney, Dillon, Larson and Stenhouse has grabbed. He’s more than a middling talent and he has that Hendrick Motorsports support. The future could be now.

Denny Hamlin has many accomplishments on his resume, but a championship in the Monster Energy Cup Series has not been one of them. Joe Gibbs Racing has hung tough, though the wins in 2017 haven’t been as frequent. I’m sure Hamlin wants to put the encumbered victory in the past. Here’s his chance.

With all that comes with the changes made at SHR, you can actually consider Kevin Harvick ahead of schedule. Much like his boss Tony Stewart, when Harvick won the 2014 NASCAR playoffs, he did so with an airtight run in the season’s final ten. Harick easily has it in him to do so again.

I’d put Brad Keselowski in a similar camp. I don’t know what it is about the Michigander I like, but I just do. He’s had some rather bad luck along the way, but unless he’s attacked by a plague of locusts, Keselowski will do no worse than keep the top contenders honest.

Waiting In The Weeds

Let’s not forget that these two may well be the best of our generation.

Even when he doesn’t win, Kyle Busch is a threat. He’s been breathing down the necks of Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson all season long.

While Jimmie Johnson looks a bit out of sorts, I’m not buying he’s not contending, and neither should you. If a mirage exists in the 2017 NASCAR playoffs scenario, it’s that Johnson is too out of sorts to compete.

Theirs for the taking

2017 has proven to be a breakout season for Kyle Larson. Every week, his 42 is right up there with the 78 of Martin Truex Jr. Because of his relative inexperience, it may be tempting to sell him short. I’m not. This kid is proving he’s a winner.

Martin Truex Jr. has the look of a front runner and rightly so. Could anyone have imagined five years ago that the two-time Xifinity champion would be in this position today? He’s here because the total package is there. He’s top notch, his crew is as well. Cole Pearn has earned his place among the top pit bosses, and the technical alliance of Furniture Row with Joe Gibbs has been money. Truex is no lock to win the 2017 NASCAR playoffs. He’s up against the best racers of today. With that being said, he sure looks like a man of destiny.