Ten races may seem like a lot of time for winless NASCAR Cup Series drivers to clinch a berth in the playoffs. But with 12 spots already clinched for the postseason, just four open spots remain in the postseason bracket.
There are still a handful of big-name drivers seeking their maiden win of 2022 like Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and past champions Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick.
Tyler Reddick has fallen just short of a win a handful of 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 left on the regular-season calendar, the door is open for first-time winners to emerge and burst the playoff bubble. NASCAR.com’s Cameron Richardson and Sean Montgomery debate.
RICHARDSON: I might be stretching here a little bit but there’s something about Erik Jones this season that has stood out. His results may not jump, but given the surprises already this season, why can’t Jones be the next in line to break into Victory lane?
According to NASCAR’s loop data, Jones had an average running position of 12.139 in the Daytona 500 before a late wreck took him out of the race. At Atlanta Motor Speedway in March, Jones ranked sixth among drivers in average position.
Jones has a superspeedway win under his belt (Daytona, summer 2018) and with his ability to run up front for a long duration of a race, he has to be a player to win the second Atlanta race three weeks from now.
Given Kyle Larson’s dominance at Nashville Superspeedway last year and the monopoly Hendrick Motorsports and Trackhouse Racing have purchased over the last eight road-course events, it’s difficult to lock in a driver earning their first win of the season in the next two weeks, which makes Atlanta the next-best place for the 13th different winner of 2022.
The No. 43 team had its best run of the year with a third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway, where Jones led 18 laps. The race weekend at Michigan International Speedway isn’t until August, but the 2-mile oval most-closely resembles Auto Club, making it another good spot for Jones to earn that first victory of the year.
No matter the track, give me “That Jones Boy” to be the next driver to clinch his spot in the playoffs.
MONTGOMERY: It has been a while since we have heard this name and seen this face in Victory Lane. My pick is Kevin Harvick. Though he has been inconsistent in a handful of races, Harvick’s solid stretches this season greatly outweigh his struggles.
The No. 4 team fell just shy of the win at Richmond Raceway, finishing runner-up to match its best finish 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. That performance was alone enough to sway, showcasing that the team can be competitive at various tracks and racing styles.
Harvick has a solid chance to end his winless drought with a mixed-bag schedule 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 is growing with every winless race and frustrating in-race incident. The last time “The Closer” went back-to-back seasons without a victory was 2008-09 (winless in 2021). Harvick has also never led under 100 laps through a full season in his entire career and currently only sits at 13 in 16 races.
History is on the side of the established veteran. And to put it simply, his best in 2022 is still yet to come. He will be the next winless driver this season to earn the checkered flag.