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story.lead_photo.caption Matt DiBenedetto gives thumbs up during driver introductions before the Daytona 500 on Feb. 14, 2021, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Photo by Associated Press / News Tribune.

Some of you might be wondering what happened to the weekly NASCAR column that began last summer in conjunction with the Riley Racing Challenge.

The rest of you are wondering what I'm talking about, and that's fine. The good news is, it's back! Well, for today.

As you might imagine, it's a bit busier these days. But with the season 11 races in, it seemed like a good time for an update.

In the last column, I went with Chevrolet driver Chase Elliott as the pick to win the Cup Series championship in a season Ford and Toyota dominated.

That momentum hasn't carried over into the fantasy picks this season, but more on that later.

Oddly enough, Elliott is not one of the 10 drivers already with a win this season.

Now for the question that's been asked for weeks now: Will there be more than 16 winners before the playoffs?

Despite 10 winners in 11 races, the answer is no.

There will be at least 13 with Elliott, points leader Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick patiently waiting for their turn to drive into victory lane.

That leaves 12 points races to get four more new winners, which would kick one of them out of the 16-driver playoff field. Who are those four drivers?

Richard Childress racing has been solid with Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick, so there's two.

Chris Buescher is 15th in points but the last Roush Racing driver to win was Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won at Talladega and Daytona in 2017.

The other two strong contenders are Matt DiBenedetto and Kurt Busch.

It would take fortunate circumstances for anyone else.

Once the list gets to 13, which is how many different winners there were all of last season, some of those drivers will get their second, third and fourth win to keep the other contenders I mentioned from getting that golden ticket to the playoffs.

They'll have to settle for getting in on points.

III

Speaking of winners, there have been nine different winners in the Riley Racing Challenge. Roger Samson of Jefferson City won back-to-back weeks with scores of 908 points and 936 points for the races at Las Vegas and Phoenix. No other weekly winner has scored more than 900 points.

Don Struemph of Jefferson City correctly picked Kyle Busch to win the Buschy McBusch Race 400 at Kansas Speedway for 175 of the 890 points scored to earn a second win in three races.

Tom Rackers leads the News Tribune VIPs in the season standings, with Jared Porter and Abbey Imhoff from the advertising department right behind. Then it's Greg Jackson, myself and Colin O'Brien waiting for the season to get past the 15-race mark so our lowest scores can be dropped. Daytona, Talladega and the Bristol dirt race were rather rough on a lot of the fantasy players.

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