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IMS Writers’ Roundtable, Vol. 28: Brickyard Shock Winner?

Today’s question: Aric Almirola punched his ticket into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with an upset victory last Sunday at New Hampshire, his first of the season. What driver without a win this season is most likely to earn a Playoffs spot with a victory in the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard on Sunday, Aug. 15 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course?

Curt Cavin: Isn’t Chase Briscoe the pick here? He won last year’s Xfinity Series race on the IMS road course and was sixth in the Cup Series’ race at Road America earlier this month. Of note, Kevin Harvick, who won the 2019 and ’20 races on the IMS oval, still hasn’t won a race this season, but if you want an upset pick other than Briscoe, let’s go with Ross Chastain sending Chip Ganassi out of NASCAR on a high. Besides, Chastain finished fourth earlier this year Circuit of The Americas and was seventh both at Sonoma Raceway and Road America.

Zach Horrall: I think there’s one driver the NASCAR industry is watching but not quite taking seriously as a NASCAR Playoffs contender, and it’s Ross Chastain. Ever since the NASCAR Cup Series made its debut at Circuit of The Americas in May, he’s been on a different level, especially at road courses. He finished fourth there and seventh at Sonoma and at Road America. He also finished second at Nashville Superspeedway, which makes you wonder what makes him so good at new tracks on the schedule. He’s driving incredibly well right now, and he’s driving with added motivation: Chip Ganassi sold his organization to Trackhouse Racing, and Chastain doesn’t have a ride for next year yet. This melon famer from Florida can seriously win the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard in August.

Paul Kelly: Spite and the need for employment can be equally powerful motivators for any race driver, and few drivers in the Cup Series garage have both more than Matt DiBenedetto these days. DiBenedetto recently lost his ride with the legendary Wood Brothers for next season, as he will be replaced by rookie Harrison Burton, son of former Cup Series standout Jeff Burton. DiBenedetto’s social posts after he received his pink slip indicated he was blindsided and less than pleased with the decision. So, he will have plenty of spite mixed with the need to impress car owners at Indy to land another Cup Series ride for next season. Granted, this is a long shot, as DiBenedetto has just four career top-10 finishes in 19 Cup Series road course starts. But stranger things have happened at Indy: Who predicted Paul Menard would win the 2011 Brickyard 400? Go ahead, raise your hand, all four of you who called that shot.

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