NASCAR: 3 underdogs who can change the playoff narrative

Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing, Corey LaJoie, Spire Motorsports, Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR playoffs (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing, Corey LaJoie, Spire Motorsports, Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR playoffs (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) /

Which playoff underdogs have the best chance to surprise the NASCAR world, remain in championship contention, and advance to the round of 8?

The round of 16 of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs came to an end at Bristol Motor Speedway last Saturday night, setting the field for the round of 12.

Following trips to Darlington Raceway, Kansas Speedway, and Bristol in the opening round, the round of 12 features races at Texas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Eight drivers are set to advance to the round of 8 when the round of 12 concludes. FanDuel Sportsbook, which is running a promotion which gives fans an instant and guaranteed $200, lists a clear drop-off between the eighth and ninth place drivers in the championship odds.

Just how clear is that drop-off? The favorite is listed closer to the eighth place driver than the eighth place driver is to the ninth.

Which drivers listed outside of the top eight in the championship odds have the best chance to get through to the next round?

NASCAR playoff underdogs to watch: No. 1 – Brad Keselowski

Championship odds: +2000

While he is still seeking his first win since April 2021, RFK Racing co-owner Brad Keselowski has been a regular frontrunner pretty much everywhere amid his team’s resurgence, opening up the playoffs without a finish lower than ninth place in the round of 16.

Teammate Chris Buescher won three regular season races, but Keselowski still finished higher in points. Despite starting the postseason with fewer playoff points, he finished higher than his teammate in the round of 16. And despite a disappointing year number one with the team last season, the 2012 champion clearly still has what it takes to compete at a high level.

NASCAR playoff underdogs to watch: No. 2 – Ross Chastain

Championship odds: +2500

It’s not exactly a secret that Ross Chastain hasn’t had quite the season he had last year in his first year with Trackhouse Racing Team, but I don’t buy into the narrative that he has been that far off from where he and the No. 1 team were a year ago.

He has led 482 laps this season after leading 692 all of last year, and he is just one lead lap finish shy of his total from 2022, when he made it to the Championship 4 and finished in second place in the standings. His start to this year’s playoffs, while largely underwhelming, wasn’t that much different than it was last year. Some of his best tracks are still on the schedule.

NASCAR playoff underdogs to watch: No. 3 – Bubba Wallace

Championship odds: +10000

I totally understand why, on paper, the worst driver remaining in the playoffs is a +10000 longshot, with nobody else even listed with longer odds than +2500. But this inexplicably puts Bubba Wallace’s odds even longer than they were heading into the round of 16, and the round of 12 suits his strengths.

23XI Racing’s bread and butter has been intermediate tracks (Texas), Wallace is one of the series’ best superspeedway drivers and is a Talladega race winner, and although he has struggled in road course races, he managed a seventh place finish in last year’s playoff race at Charlotte.

All odds and availability are subject to change. Lock in your $200 now!

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Texas Motor Speedway is scheduled to begin the round of 12 this Sunday, September 24 at 3:30 p.m. ET with the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400, which is set to be broadcast live on USA Network. If you have not yet had the chance to do so, begin a free trial of FuboTV now!