The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season is off to a unique start with winners we didn’t expect, drivers we didn’t plan on seeing this high in the standings and surprise drivers in the bottom half of the standings.
Three races into the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, and we have already seen some interesting drivers at the top of the playoff picture. Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell and William Byron are the three winners so far this season. Who had that on their predictions board to start the year?
But how about other surprises inside the top 16 in the point standings? Ryan Preece, Cole Custer, Chris Buescher and Bubba Wallace each hold provisional spots in the playoffs. Three of those four drivers have never made the playoffs, with Custer making it in after his surprise win at Kentucky Speedway as a rookie last year.
This comes at the expense of drivers including but not limited to Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch, as well as several others who made the playoffs last year.
Obviously, it is way too early in the season to predict which 16 drivers will be in the playoffs and who will be out. But as we enter our first ordinary 1.5-mile intermediate track of the season this weekend with Las Vegas Motor Speedway and prepare for many short tracks and road courses on the schedule, should some drivers who are capable of earning a playoff spot be in a panic?
In this article, we look at five drivers who may be in the early danger zone.
Drivers who should panic: #1 – Matt DiBenedetto
- 34th in points with 14
- 53 points behind the cut line
Three races into the 2021 season and Matt DiBenedetto is not off to a good start. Finishes of 33rd, 37th and 28th place have put him down in 34th in the point standings.
It has been a lot of bad luck, though; let’s admit that. Getting caught with nowhere to go in the “Big One” in the Daytona 500, blowing a right rear tire and then cutting a brake line at the Daytona International Speedway road course and sustaining minor damage at Homestead-Miami Speedway from Ross Chastain have played a huge role in this misfortune.
But this still does not look good, considering DiBenedetto made the playoffs last season. He sits behind everybody except for StarCom Racing’s Quin Houff among full-time drivers, including three Rick Ware Racing drivers, Jamie McMurray, who only competed in the Daytona 500, and Front Row Motorsports rookie Anthony Alfredo.
He is already about one race behind Bubba Wallace, who currently holds the final playoff spot, in points. I’d be panicking about making the playoffs right now if I’m Guido — same with Leonard Wood.
As for Roger Penske? I wouldn’t be panicking specifically. I’d be looking forward to 2022 because the Wood Brothers Racing ride is already set to go to Austin Cindric, and I still have time to assess whether or not DiBenedetto deserves a shot with my team. But on the Penske side, there is one driver who should be panicking.