NASCAR playoff picture could hinge on one unexpected battle

Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing, Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing, Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski are well above the NASCAR Cup Series playoff cut line. But they are far from safe and could end up battling over one spot.

Entering last Sunday afternoon’s Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick and RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski occupied the top two positions in the provisional 16-driver NASCAR Cup Series playoff picture among non-winners.

With 12 playoff eligible drivers having found victory lane at least once in the season’s first 23 races, Harvick sat 180 points ahead of the cut line in 13th place in the playoff picture, while Keselowski sat 168 points ahead in 14th.

They still occupy those top two spots, but Sunday’s race produced a new winner in Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell

McDowell’s win vaulted him ahead of Harvick and Keselowski in the provisional playoff picture, so now Harvick sits in 14th place while Keselowski sits in 15th. Just three spots, not four, remain open for drivers to potentially qualify for the postseason on points.

They still sit 145 and 143 points ahead of the cut line, respectively. But they could be battling for a single spot in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

There are two races remaining on the regular season schedule, including this coming Sunday afternoon’s race at Watkins Glen International and next Saturday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway.

There is a good possibility that two more new winners will emerge in these two races. Just look at who else finished this past Sunday’s race in the top three.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott, who hasn’t yet won this year, is a two-time winner at Watkins Glen and the active leader in road course wins with seven, and Trackhouse Racing Team’s Daniel Suarez, who also hasn’t yet won this year, has developed into a solid road course driver in the Next Gen era.

And it goes without saying that anybody can win the wild card race that is the regular season finale at Daytona, given the type of racing superspeedways produce.

If the regular season ends up producing 15 different winners not named Harvick or Keselowski, then their points battle will determine which former champion makes it to the playoffs and which doesn’t.

Fortunately for them, they know that at least one spot is guaranteed to remain open for a driver to qualify on points, so by finishing ahead of the other, they can effectively lock up a playoff spot.

No other winless driver is within 114 points of either driver, with 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace being the closest, and only 110 points remain available for non-winners throughout the rest of the regular season. In each race, non-winners can score 10 points by winning stage one, 10 by winning stage two, and 35 by placing second in the race itself.

DraftKings Sportsbook, which is now giving fans an instant $150 just for signing up and betting $5, lists Harvick at +2000 to win this year’s championship, while Keselowski is listed at +2200.

Odds and availability are subject to change. Lock in your $150 now!

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