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NASCAR America: Playoff contenders are hard to predict

NBC Sports logo NBC Sports 9/12/2018 Dan Beaver
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Most experts agree that the Big 3 of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. will make their way to Homestead with a shot at winning the NASCAR Cup championship. NASCAR America analysts Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman are no exception.

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The biggest unknown is who will advance to the Round of 12 and eventually the Round of 8. The difference between one round and the other is likely to come down small factors.

“(The Contenders) to me is the largest group in the playoffs,” Kligerman said on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America. “We couldn’t really separate these from each other because they are all separated by about 12 points and they’re all right on top of each other.“

Advancing to the Round of 8 is going to come down to a little bit of luck and a lot of execution because Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski have each shown flashes of speed at various times on various tracks.

Meanwhile, none have shown the same kind of consistency as the Big 3.

MORE: 16 drivers, 16 questions: Analyzing the Cup playoff competitors

“I look at that and I say, ok there is not really one team that I would take or draft or bet on or pull for in this group that really raises its head above the others,” Petty said.

“Whoever in there executes best; whoever gets the lucky break is going to be the teams that separate themselves into the Round of 12 and … into the Round of 8, but I don’t think when I look at that group that I can pick a solid contender out of them and say you’re the fourth best or you’re right there with our favorites,” Kligerman added.

One driver who has separated himself from the remainder of The Contenders is Erik Jones.

“Erik Jones, over the last five or six weeks, has really done himself proud,” Petty said. “They have run up front, finished second at Indy. They have made moves; they have run fast on the racetrack. They have adjusted that car. At Indy, he was out to lunch much of the day and comes back and finishes second.”

Kligerman agreed: “Erik Jones has kind of been a surprise to many people since his win at Daytona; they’ve really turned it on there. … I’d say the biggest issue or question mark with this race team is this is their first time in the playoffs.”

For more, watch the video above.

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