NASCAR’s Cup Series is ready to make its run to the finish line.
The only off weekend of the 2022 season is in the rear-view mirror. Sunday’s race at Nashville (5 pm ET, NBC) is the first of 20 races on 20 consecutive weekends through the final race of the season at Phoenix on Nov. 6.
The 20-race finishing kick is made up of the final 10 races of the regular season and the 10 playoff races at the end of the season. It’s not a stretch to say the last 10 races of this regular season have a little more importance than they’ve had in previous years either given the number of winners so far in 2022.
Twelve drivers have won a race over the first 16 races of the season. Only William Byron, Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano have won multiple races. And neither of them has won more than two races so far this season.
With 16 drivers in the playoff field, there’s room for just four winless drivers at the moment. And drivers like Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick don’t have a win yet. Blaney and Truex feel like pretty safe bets to get wins soon. Throw in a win by Harvick or someone like Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick or a surprise driver and there’s a chance that the playoff field could be comprised of winners for the first time since it expanded to 16 drivers in 2014.
Sunday’s race is just the second Cup Series race at Nashville Superspeedway. Kyle Larson won the inaugural Cup race at the track a season ago when he led 264 of the race’s 300 laps. You won’t be stunned to find out that Larson is the BetMGM favorite on Sunday.
The concrete 1.33-mile track is unlike any other track on the Cup Series schedule. No other intermediate track is concrete. While Nashville may have a similar shape to other 1.5-mile ovals on the calendar, its pavement type means it doesn’t have many commonalities.
Here’s what you need to know for Sunday’s race. It’s also the first race of the season for NBC. The broadcaster will televise the rest of the Cup Series season on its networks. NBC should be an upgrade over Fox by default, especially for those of us getting more and more frustrated by the week with Fox’s lackadaisical coverage.
Kyle Larson (+500)
Kyle Busch (+700)
Ross Chastain (+800)
Chase Elliott (+900)
Denny Hamlin (+1000)
Joey Logano (+1000)
Busch is one of the few drivers in the field who has an Xfinity Series win at the track. Busch won in 2009 and 2021 at Nashville. Logano won in 2009 at Nashville as well and Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski also have victories at the track in NASCAR’s No. 2 series. Chastain is the No. 3 favorite by virtue of Trackhouse’s all-around speed this season and his No. 2 spot in the points standings. Elliott should have a top-10 car.
Good mid-tier value
William Byron (+1400)
Kurt Busch (+2800)
Byron has been faster than his Hendrick Motorsports teammates at times this season and Sunday could easily be another edition. He finished third in 2021. Busch won at Kansas earlier this year and his 23XI team has shown that it has fast cars at bigger tracks.
Don’t bet this driver
Stewart-Haas Racing hasn’t had the speed that other teams have had at intermediate tracks this season and we’re not bullish on Briscoe being a contender for the win on Sunday.
Looking for a long shot?
Wallace’s team needs to get its act together. Wallace has shown speed at times in 2022 but hasn’t been able to put together solid results thanks to pit crew mistakes, loose wheels and other issues like the blown engine he suffered at Phoenix. If the No. 23 can figure it out, Wallace can contend for a win or two before the end of the regular season.