There is no clear favorite heading into the 2022 Cup Series playoffs. Each driver — including regular-season champion Chase Elliott — has a weakness. However, the schedule actually favors the Toyota Racing family.
One of the biggest stories throughout the 2022 regular season was Toyota’s weakness at the road courses. Accomplished drivers with a history of success at road courses often found themselves outside of the top 10. Instead, they contended for wins at the 1.5-mile tracks while showcasing impressive speed.
The playoff schedule favors these trends. There is only one road course — the Charlotte Roval. For comparison, there are five tracks that fall in the 1.5-mile category. Though Darlington Raceway is only 1.366 miles long.
These are all tracks where the TRD drivers contended for strong finishes and wins in 2022. The race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a fitting example. Kyle Busch would have likely won if not for a late caution and a two-tire strategy used by Hendrick Motorsports drivers.
Hamlin is one of the drivers that could have been in contention for the win at Las Vegas, along with Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Christopher Bell. He started eighth for the Pennzoil 400, and he secured points in Stages 1 and 2. However, a drivetrain issue ended his day early.
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The first race at Darlington Raceway also serves as a unique example. All of the Toyota drivers had speed at The Lady in Black, and they were in positions to secure points in the opening stages.
However, a Stage 2 wreck ended Kyle Busch’s day while Truex, Hamlin, Kurt Busch, and Bubba Wallace were caught up during an incident in the final stage while they were running inside of the top 10. Bell, who avoided these incidents, was able to turn in a sixth-place finish.
Obviously, Busch, Wallace, and Truex are not in the playoffs. It is still worth noting the speed that they have shown alongside the other TRD drivers at the intermediate tracks remaining on the schedule.
Kansas Speedway Featured Previous Toyota Racing Dominance
Las Vegas Motor Speedway is not the only track where TRD drivers turned heads. Kansas Speedway, which returns in the Round of 16, is another example. Kurt Busch scored his 34th win after leading 116 laps and sweeping the final two stages.
Busch is not in the playoffs after withdrawing as he continues to recover from concussion-like symptoms, but the other TRD drivers all had their own strong performances on May 15. Every single one finished inside of the top 10.
Kyle Larson finished second overall in a Chevrolet, but Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, and Martin Truex Jr. all crossed the finish line just behind him and ahead of three other Chevrolet drivers. Bubba Wallace rounded out the top 10 after recovering from a penalty for an uncontrolled tire.
“I think that the race tracks really play into our hands for sure,” Christopher Bell said ahead of the playoffs, per TRD PR. “I would expect Darlington, Kansas, Homestead, Texas, Vegas — all of those race tracks to be ones that we perform well at.
“The ROVAL is definitely one that we have circled — on a place that we need to focus on to get better. That’s no secret. The tracks are there, so hopefully, we are able to execute on the tracks that we are good at and have great showings.”
The Odds Highlight Certain Toyota Drivers
The playoffs have not officially kicked off, but BetMGM has already released the updated championship odds focusing on the 16 eligible drivers. Chase Elliott leads the list, but two Toyota drivers have strong odds.
Elliott enters the playoffs at 3-1 odds while Larson is at 7-1. Denny Hamlin is third overall with 8-1 odds to win the first Cup Series championship of his career. These odds, which put him in a tie with Ross Chastain, are slightly lower than where he entered the season (7-1), but he still sits as one of the top names to watch.
Kyle Busch rounds out the top five. He enters the playoffs at 10-1 odds, putting him in a tie with Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney. Busch only has one win in the 2022 season, but he has a history of success in the playoffs.
This track record includes crucial wins at Homestead-Miami (2015, 2019), Martinsville (2017), Phoenix (2018), and Texas Motor Speedway (2020). Though Busch was not in contention for the championship four when he won at Texas.