NASCAR's version of the playoffs begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway for the first of 10 races where 16 drivers are eligible to be crowned 2016 Sprint Cup Champion on Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The Chase is broken up into four stages with the first three being groups of three races where the bottom four performers get eliminated each round. Only four drivers will remain for the final race where the best finisher will win the title.
The playoffs are all about consistency, but if an eligible driver wins a race during the round he automatically qualifies for the next round no matter how few points he accumulated.
The best strategy to find who the top-four candidates are is to look at who has the best current form heading into the Chase and also who has fared the best on 1.5-mile tracks. Chicago is the seventh race on a 1.5-mile track this season and the first of five in the Chase. Those who have fared well on those tracks this season will have an edge.
Or you can just throw it all out the window and ride with one of the five cars using Joe Gibbs Racing equipment that have combined to win 13 of the 26 races this season. One of those, Kyle Busch, won his first title last season, has two wins on 1.5-mile tracks this year and has led the most laps overall. Another, Denny Hamlin, is currently on a career-best streak of eight consecutive Top-10 finishes, which include two wins. Hamlin won right out the Chase gate last season with his first victory at Chicagoland.
2012 Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski has two wins on 1.5-mile tracks, including the last time visiting one at Kentucky, July 9. He should be considered one of the favorites to make the final four at Homestead and also to win at Chicago this week, a place where he's won two of the past four races.
Let's go with Keselowski to win this week at Chicagoland while being frantically chased by all five Gibbs cars. As for the title, let's go with the hot hand right now with Hamlin finishing better than Busch, Keselowski and Harvick at Homestead. Look for Hamlin to win Chase races at Talladega and Martinsville and then maybe even close it out with a win at Homestead where he won in 2009 and 2013.
You can currently find Hamlin at 10/1.