Not much has changed through NASCAR's first two rounds of playoffs. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are still favored to race for the championship and the other two contenders are a crapshoot.
The path to the championship finale begins today at Kansas Speedway, the first of three races in the title-setting third round. It's a fairly straightforward series with ensuing stops at Texas Motor Speedway, like Kansas a 1.5-mile intermediate oval, then half-mile Martinsville Speedway, NASCAR's shortest and oldest active track.
At stake are four slots in the winner-take-all Nov. 8 finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Harvick and Hamlin have combined for 16 wins in 32 races this season and have hoarded enough points that it would likely take some sort of sudden collapse to keep the favorites from advancing to the finale.”
Here's a look at the other six playoff drivers who can earn an automatic berth in the finale.
Brad Keselowski: With four wins this season, including one in the first round of the playoffs, Keselowski has been the only driver close to competing with Harvick and Hamlin. “I think there are three or four drivers competing for the final two spots,” he said. “We're all very similar. It's probably going to come down to the wire at Martinsville.”
Chase Elliott: This is the fourth consecutive year Elliott has advanced into the semifinals. Earlier visits this season to Kansas and Texas were disappointing and Elliott knows he's got to be steady to make it to Phoenix.
Joey Logano: He has struggled on intermediate tracks since his February victory at Las Vegas and acknowledges that not practicing during COVID-19 protocols has hampered his ability to adapt to the high-downforce aerodynamic package.
Martin Truex Jr.: He is seeking a fourth consecutive berth in the finale. He won the title in 2017 but has been runner-up the last two seasons.
Alex Bowman: He is in the semifinals for the first time in his career and a dark horse to make it through to the finale.
Kurt Busch: He probably would not have been picked to advance this far in many brackets but has really turned his performance up the last six weeks.