Ten races can seem like a long time for NASCAR Cup Series drivers without a win to qualify for the playoffs. But with 12 places already reserved for the post-season, only four vacancies remain in the post-season category.
There are still a few well-known drivers looking for their maiden victory in 2022, such as Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and former champions Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick.
Tyler Reddick has not won a few times. Could he or a regular Michael McDowell be the next to hit to win a place in the playoffs?
Much is unknown about the summer months and with two superspeedways and three road lanes remaining on the regular season calendar, the door is open for the first winners to emerge and burst the playoff bubble. The talk of Cameron Richardson and Sean Montgomery of NASCAR.com.
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RICHARDSON: I may be stretching a bit here, but there is something about Erik Jones this season that has stood out. His results may not jump, but given the surprises already this season, why can not Jones be the next in line to enter Victory lane?
According to NASCAR loop data, Jones had an average running position of 12,139 on the Daytona 500 before a delayed wreck knocked him out of the race. At the Atlanta Motor Speedway in March, Jones finished sixth among middle drivers.
Jones has a superspeedway victory to his credit (Daytona, summer 2018) and with his ability to run forward for a long race, he must be a player to win Atlanta’s second race in three weeks from now.
Given the dominance of Kyle Larson at the Nashville Superspeedway last year and the monopoly Hendrick Motorsports and Trackhouse Racing that have bought the last eight races, it is difficult to lock in a driver who will win his first win of the season in the next two weeks. Atlanta the next best place for the 13th different winner of 2022.
Team No. 43 had the best run of the year with third place at the Auto Club Speedway, where Jones drove 18 laps. The Michigan International Speedway race weekend is just August, but the 2-mile oval looks more like Auto Club, making it another good point for Jones to claim this first win of the year.
Regardless of the track, give me “That Jones Boy” to be the next driver to win his place in the playoffs.
MONTGOMERY: It’s been a long time since we heard that name and saw this person on Victory Lane. My choice is Kevin Harvik. Although he has been inconsistent in a handful of races, Harvick’s solid stretches this season far outweigh his struggles.
Team No. 4 lost to Richmond Raceway, finishing runner-up to their best finish of Bristol’s night race in September 2021. Both Harvik and company have three finishes in the top four in the last five races, anchored from a stunningly competitive day at Sonoma Raceway. This performance alone was enough to make an impact, showing that the team can be competitive on different tracks and racing styles.
Harvik has a steady chance of ending his drought without a win with a program on the horizon – a pair of road races, a revamped superspeedway in Atlanta, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the “Tricky Triangle” in Poconos.
On top of all that, Harvik’s shoulder chip grows with each win without a win and a frustrating incident within the race. The last time “The Closer” went consecutive season without a win was in 2008-09 (no win in 2021). Harvik has also never ridden less than 100 laps in a full season in his entire career and currently sits on just 13 of 16 games.
The story is on the side of the established veteran. And to put it simply, its best in 2022 has not yet come. He will be the next driver without a win this season to win the checkered flag.