The second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is upon us.
Four drivers were eliminated last weekend at Bristol: Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Cole Custer and Matt DiBenedetto. Of the four, Blaney had by far the best opportunity to win the Cup title. The other three were widely expected to be early-round exits.
Will there be a surprise driver eliminated in the second round? This three-race round is the most diverse of the playoffs. Sunday’s race is at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway before randomness can and will hit at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval over the next two weeks.
A win at Vegas will be extremely important for a driver who isn’t near the top of the points standings at the start of this round. Going into Talladega and the Roval without the worry of advancing to the third round will allow a team to focus on the two 1.5-mile tracks that start the third round.
Here’s how the standings look ahead of the second round
1. Kevin Harvick, 3,067 points
2. Denny Hamlin, 3,048
3. Brad Keselowski, 3,035
4. Joey Logano, 3,022
5. Chase Elliott, 3,021
6. Martin Truex Jr., 3,016
7. Alex Bowman, 3,009
8. Austin Dillon, 3,005
8. Aric Almirola, 3,005
10. Clint Bowyer, 3,004
10. Kyle Busch, 3,004
12. Kurt Busch, 3,001
Sunday, Sept. 27, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN
The favorite: Kevin Harvick (+450)
Best bets among the favorites
Denny Hamlin (+800)
Hamlin is on a little bit of a winless drought relative to his 2020 performance. He hasn’t won in over a month since he took the first Dover race of the doubleheader weekend. Yes, we’re talking about some seriously lofty standards here.
The Cup Series hasn’t raced at a 1.5-mile track since the July 23 race at Kansas. And guess what? Hamlin won that race. And Kansas and Las Vegas have similar progressive banking in the corners. Hamlin is listed as the No. 5 favorite, and that’s really good value here.
Chase Elliott (+1000)
Elliott and Kyle Busch are at the same odds, and you can’t go wrong with either. We’re convinced that Busch will win a race at some point this season. Elliott has shown consistent intermediate track speed and has been extremely strong at these types of tracks in the playoffs. With just two Hendrick Motorsports cars left in the playoffs, he and Alex Bowman could benefit from a little asset boost.
Best bets among the long shots
Alex Bowman (+3500)
Bowman has just one top-five finish since he was second at Darlington in May. That finish came in the second Dover race where he finished second. Both of Bowman’s wins at Hendrick Motorsports have come on 1.5- or 2-mile tracks, and he was eighth at Kansas in July.
Kurt Busch (+3500)
Much like last year, Busch’s 2020 season started strong before tailing off over the second half. Busch hasn’t finished higher than eighth in the last 10 races after being a top-10 machine through the first 19 races.
So why should you bet on Busch? He’s extremely capable of winning anywhere and his team has been consistently solid at intermediate tracks all year long. He’s finished outside the top 10 just three times at ovals not named Talladega and Daytona over a mile in length.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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