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Ten races might seem like a long time for winless NASCAR Cup Series drivers to clinch a playoff berth. But with 12 spots already clinched for the playoffs, only four spots remain open in the playoff bracket.
There are still a handful of marquee drivers looking for their first victory of 2022 like Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and former champions Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick.
Tyler Reddick has missed a win a few times. Could he or a consistent Michael McDowell be the next to strike to earn a playoff position?
Much is unknown heading into the summer months and with two superspeedways and three road courses remaining on the regular season schedule, the door is open for the first winners to emerge and burst the playoff bubble. Debate between Cameron Richardson and Sean Montgomery on NASCAR.com.
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RICHARDSON: I may be stretching a little here, but there is something about Erik Jones this season that has stood out. His results may not be jumping, but given the upsets already this season, why can’t Jones be next in line for victory?
According to NASCAR Loop data, Jones had an average race position of 12.139 in the Daytona 500 before a late crash knocked him out of the race. At Atlanta Motor Speedway in March, Jones placed sixth among the drivers in average position.
Jones has a superspeedway victory under his belt (Daytona, summer 2018) and with his ability to run out front for a long span of a race, he needs to be a player to win Atlanta’s second race in three weeks.
Given Kyle Larson’s dominance at Nashville Superspeedway last year and the monopoly that Hendrick Motorsports and Trackhouse Racing have purchased over the last eight road events, it’s hard to lock in a driver taking his first win of the season in the next two weeks, making Atlanta the second-best location for the 13th different winner of 2022.
The No. 43 team had its best race of the year with a third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway, where Jones led 18 laps. Race weekend at Michigan International Speedway doesn’t take place until August, but the 2-mile oval most closely resembles the Auto Club, making it another good place for Jones to score that first win of the year.
No matter the track, give me “That Jones Boy” to be the next driver to clinch his playoff spot.
MONTGOMERY: It’s been a while since we’ve heard that name and seen that face in Victory Lane. My pick is Kevin Harvick. Although he’s been inconsistent in a handful of races, Harvick’s strong stretches this season far outweigh his struggles.
The No. 4 team fell just short of victory at Richmond Raceway, finishing second to equal their best result since the Bristol Night Race in September 2021. And Harvick and company have three top-four finishes in the last five races , anchored by a surprisingly competitive day at Sonoma Raceway. This performance alone was enough to influence, showing that the team can be competitive on different tracks and racing styles.
Harvick has a solid chance to end his winless drought with a mixed program on the horizon – a pair of road courses, a revamped superspeedway in Atlanta, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the “Tricky Triangle” in the Poconos.
On top of all that, the chip on Harvick’s shoulder grows with every race without a win and every frustrating mishap during the race. The last time “The Closer” had consecutive seasons without a win was in 2008-09 (winless in 2021). Harvick has also never led less than 100 laps in a full season in his entire career and currently sits just 13 in 16 races.
History is on the side of the established veteran. And to put it simply, his best in 2022 is yet to come. He will be the next winless driver this season to win the checkered flag.