Two Cup Series playoff races are in the books, and only one remains before NASCAR cuts the field from 16 drivers down to 12. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, and Martin Truex Jr. have already locked up their spots in the next round, but seven drivers are battling near the cut line. Here are the updated points standings.
Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman both sit in a tie for the final spot in the Round of 12 with 2,053 points. The driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro is currently above the cut line due to owning the tiebreaker. His best finish in the first two playoff races is sixth at Darlington Raceway while Bowman’s best finish is 12th at Richmond Raceway.
Tyler Reddick (2,048), William Byron (2,035), and Michael McDowell (2,015) all join Bowman below the cut line. Reddick is in the best position considering that he is only five points below the cutline. He could make the leap into the Round of 12 with a strong performance at Bristol Motor Speedway and some help. Byron and McDowell, on the other hand, are in more of a must-win situation.
The Round of 16 will come to an end on Saturday, Sept. 18, with the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The race will take place at 7:30 p.m. ET with NBC Sports Network providing coverage. 16 drivers will enter still eligible to contend for the championship trophy, but only 12 will move on in the playoffs.
Multiple ‘Safe’ Drivers Still Remain in Danger of Elimination
While Bowman, Reddick, Byron, and McDowell all sit below the cut line, they are not the only drivers with reason to worry. The four drivers currently in the safe zone could still face elimination with struggles at the Tennessee short track.
Busch, in particular, will have to make up ground early after a flat tire at Richmond dropped him from 26 points above the cut line to zero. He has no room for error and will have to fight for a top-10 finish at a track where he has six past wins.
Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch, and Brad Keselowski are all in similar positions as they prepare for the final Round of 16 race. Busch crashed early at Darlington and finished 35th. He started on row eight next to McDowell for the Richmond race and then fought to gain ground throughout the race, gaining points in the process. Busch led at one point, but a penalty dropped him back in the pack during the final stage. He ultimately recovered for an eighth-place finish while teammate Martin Truex Jr. won. Now Busch sits a mere eight points above the cutline.
Almirola and Keselowski, on the other hand, entered the playoffs with precious few points to spare. Both Ford drivers needed to gain ground early and stack points to move on to the Round of 12. Almirola has overcome some minor issues and raced around the top-15, but he hasn’t cracked the top 10 just yet. He is now only three points above the line with one race remaining.
Keselowski cracked the top-10 at Darlington, finishing seventh overall while Denny Hamlin won. He then headed to Richmond and finished 13th overall during a relatively quiet evening. The driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford sits in a decent position overall with 13 points to the positive, but he could quickly lose his advantage with a poor outing.
Who Has the Advantage at Bristol?
All eyes will be on the cut line during the final Round of 16 race. The eight drivers closest in points will have extra pressure on them as they fight for the best position and the opportunity to move on in the playoffs, but three will enter with a potential advantage.
Of the drivers in danger, the Busch brothers and Keselowski have the most success. The Team Penske driver has won at Bristol three times in the Cup Series, including going back-to-back in 2011 and 2012. His most recent win took place in 2020 during the first Bristol race.
The elder Busch — Kurt — has six previous wins. He first headed to Victory Lane in 2002 before winning three straight in 2003 and 2004. Busch added wins in 2006 and 2018. Now he will fight for a seventh, as well as the opportunity to move on to the Round of 12.
Kyle Busch leads the list with eight total victories at Bristol. He first won in 2007 before returning to Victory Lane in 2009 (twice), 2010, 2011, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Kyle also has 14 top-five finishes in his Cup Series career.
Reddick, Byron, Bowman, Almirola, and McDowell have yet to win at Bristol Motor Speedway. Bowman has a fifth-place run in 2018 to his name while Almirola has cracked the top-five twice in his career. Reddick finished fourth overall during the 2020 playoff race. Byron and McDowell both have one top-10 finish each in their Cup careers, which does not bode well considering that they are the furthest below the cut line.