Under the current playoff format, the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship can sometimes seem like it’s up for grabs. But going into the the postseason starting Sunday, it really seems like a two-man race between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.

Through the first 26 races of the season, Harvick and Hamlin absolutely dominated the competition with seven and six wins, respectively. And with more on the line now, it would surely take multiple catastrophic disasters for them to fail to advance to the Championship 4 race in November at Phoenix Raceway.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. So prior to the start of the 16-driver, 10-race playoffs, we attempted to answer five questions about the NASCAR playoffs and its potential subplots.

1. Can anyone beat Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin?

Michelle: No. Through 26 regular-season races, they combine for 13 wins so far and have the kind of speed their competitors dream of. It’s rare not to see one or both of them running up front, especially when they combine to have led nearly a third (28.4 percent) of all the laps in 2020. It’s a popular sentiment this time of the season to argue that certain drivers have enough points to slide through to the championship race. But this year, that seems more realistic than ever. It’s anyone’s race once they get to Phoenix, but there’s no stopping Harvick or Hamlin at this point.

And I’m with Nick on contenders to spoil their seasons. Never sleep on Martin Truex Jr., who’s been on a string of exceptionally valuable finishes without actually winning more than one race so far.

Nick: Harvick and Hamlin have been a step ahead of the entire field in 2020, and one of those two drivers should win a championship this year. In a pre-playoffs NASCAR world, Harvick and Hamlin would have a massive points edge on everyone else, and we’d be preparing for a 10-race duel between the two best cars in the sport. Instead, Harvick and Hamlin will have nine opportunities to squander their season with a crash or a mechanical failure.

Of the rest, I’d put my money on Martin Truex Jr. for the rest of the year. He’s an excellent short track racer, and the playoffs will be heading to Richmond, Bristol, Martinsville and Phoenix, all places Truex can excel at. He’s going to win at least one of those races. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brad Keselowski also wins one of those short-track races.

2. The first four drivers eliminated will be…

Michelle: Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, William Byron. Despite Byron winning Saturday, his inexperience here will show. Busch is barely in the playoffs, so one poor race could easily knock him out — though a strong performance at Bristol could save him. And Almirola and Dillon don’t need a disaster to face elimination. But if they don’t start the playoffs on a high note, they could fall below the cutoff line and flail.

Nick: Matt DiBenedetto, Cole Custer, Austin Dillon, Aric Almirola. The first three are fairly obvious. As for Almirola, the first playoff stage just doesn’t suit him. He’s decent, but not great, at Darlington and Richmond, but he’s had terrible results at Bristol over his career. In the No. 10 Stewart-Haas car, Almirola has finished 29th, 29th, 37th, 31st, and 6th in five races there.

Which drivers will race for a title in Phoenix?

Michelle: Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott. Until one of the first three drivers start hinting they’re not title contenders this year, it’s hard not to pick them. I’m going with Elliott for the final spot because throughout the year and on different tracks, he’s had solid speed, even when he doesn’t win.

Nick: Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano. I debated putting Brad Keselowski here, but Logano seems to have gotten over his mid-season slump and has been pumping in top-10s consistently, excluding his crash at Daytona.

3. Will Jimmie Johnson win a race in 2020?

Michelle: This would be the dream for Jimmie Johnson fans everywhere who are hoping their favorite driver has one last win in him before retiring. Unfortunately for them, that answer feels like a no. Even when Johnson’s car has speed and he’s running up front, something has kept him from getting his first win since 2017. His luck has been terrible this season — he’s crashed plenty of times, been disqualified and even tested positive for COVID-19 and missed a race — and it’s hard to imagine it improving.

Nick: While it would be terrific if Jimmie could mirror Jeff Gordon’s sendoff victory at Martinsville, I just don’t see it happening. The reality is that Johnson’s car hasn’t been great at intermediate tracks this year, and when he has had a fast ride, he’s generally made mistakes that have cost him a chance to win. I’d say Bristol is his best chance, with Martinsville a close second.

4. Will Kyle Busch win a race in 2020?

Michelle: Yes, but his title defense will be over before the finale. And that we’re even wondering if the No. 18 Toyota team will win a race in 2020 is a huge shocker. But Busch just doesn’t have the speed of his teammates, and even when he’s plowing through the field and running well, he’s ultimately stifled. I’ll guess he finally gets a win at Bristol and locks himself into the Round of 12, sneaks into the Round of 8 but doesn’t make it to the Championship 4.

Nick: Yes. Kyle Busch’s winless streak has probably gotten more attention than it deserves, perhaps due to a combination of Kyle’s high-profile accidents and his tendency to trash his car on the radio. You wouldn’t think it, but KB has more top-5s than anyone other than Harvick, Hamlin and Truex this season. He’ll eventually convert one of those good runs into a win, and he’s especially strong at Phoenix, Martinsville, Richmond and Darlington.

5. Who will be the 2020 Cup Series champion?

Michelle: Kevin Harvick will get his second championship, leaving Denny Hamlin still in search of his first. Harvick is the winningest driver of all time at Phoenix with nine career checkered flags, and after this season, nobody’s stopping that team.

Nick: Denny Hamlin finally gets his first career title. He’s been too consistently fast to not advance to the Championship round, and while Kevin Harvick is decidedly stronger at Phoenix than Hamlin historically, this will finally be Hamlin’s year.

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