The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs kick off on Sunday, Sept. 5, with the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. There are 10 races to go before the champion holds up his trophy, but sportsbooks currently predict that Kyle Larson will win the title.
According to BetOnline, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro has the best odds (9-4) to win the 2021 Cup Series championship. Teammate Chase Elliott is just behind him at 23-4 while a trio of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers round out the top five. Kyle Busch (7-1), Martin Truex Jr. (7-1), and Denny Hamlin (15-2) all have similar odds to win.
Larson beat Hamlin in the chase for the regular-season championship after overcoming a deficit of more than 100 points. He achieved this goal by winning five points-paying races and posting 14 top-five finishes. Winning the regular-season championship ensured that Larson would enter the playoffs with 15 bonus points, increasing his total to 52 overall and 28 more than Ryan Blaney or Truex.
The 2020 Odds-On Favorite Did Not Contend for the Title
While Larson is the clear favorite to win the 2021 title, he will have to go out onto the track every week and perform at his best. If he makes mistakes, he could follow in the footsteps of the 2020 regular-season champion and miss the final four.
Kevin Harvick, the driver with 16-1 odds to win the title, entered the 2020 playoffs as the favorite. He had won seven races during the regular season and locked up the bonus points, as well as the best odds entering the playoffs. Harvick then increased the belief that he would win his second championship by winning playoff races at Darlington and Bristol Motor Speedway.
The situation changed, however, during the Rounds of 12 and eight. Harvick only posted one top-five finish the rest of the playoffs, taking second at Kansas Speedway. He finished outside of the top 10 at Talladega (20th), the Charlotte Roval (11), Texas Motor Speedway (16), and Martinsville (17th).
The final cutoff race served as a particular low point. Harvick sat one point below the cut line and needed to finish near the front of the pack to join Joey Logano and Elliott in the championship four. Hamlin and Brad Keselowski were in a tie with one point more than Harvick.
The driver of the No. 4 had one final opportunity to gain the needed point entering the last turn at Martinsville, but he had to move past Kyle Busch to do so. Harvick tried to spin the driver of the No. 18 to gain position, but he actually sent himself into the wall and ensured that he would be on the outside looking in at Phoenix.
Ryan Blaney Rises Up the Ranks
While past champions in Truex, Busch, and Elliott sit near the top of the playoff odds, another driver joins them after recent success. Ryan Blaney currently holds the sixth-best odds (10-2) to win the title.
The driver of the No. 12 Team Penske originally secured his spot in the playoffs with a win at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 21. He then spent much of the regular season accumulating points for the playoffs but didn’t truly contend for another win until he finished second at the Indianapolis Road Course behind AJ Allmendinger on Aug. 15.
The runner-up in Indy served as a precursor for a wild finish to the regular season. Blaney actually moved into a tie with Truex for second in the playoff standings by winning the two races leading up to Darlington.
He secured his first-ever multi-win season at Michigan on Aug. 22 after beating William Byron by 0.077 seconds. He then survived the carnage-filled Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway and locked up his third win of the season while his fellow drivers crashed behind him.
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