The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs continue with the start of the Round of 12. The drivers will fight for points over the next three races, but three former champions will have to gain ground early to avoid elimination. Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, and Kevin Harvick all sit below the cutline.
NASCAR released the updated points standings after Kyle Larson‘s win at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, Sept. 18, providing a glimpse at the drivers in the best position to move on to the Round of Eight. The former champions are not among this group. Logano is in the best position, sitting only one point below the cutline. Keselowski is six points below the line while Harvick is 12 points below.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell is the fourth driver under the cutline. He faces a nine-point deficit as he tries to remain alive in his first-ever Cup Series playoff appearance. Bell would sit in a better position, but the No. 20 suffered massive damage to the right side late in the race and forced him to go down pit road twice for unscheduled stops. Bell ended the race 29th overall, but he barely remained above the cutline.
Keselowski Turned a Corner at Bristol Motor Speedway
The 2012 Cup Series champion has spoken openly throughout the year about the struggles of Ford drivers at several tracks on the schedule. He particularly highlighted 550-horsepower tracks such as Kansas, Atlanta, and Las Vegas.
A trip to a 750-horsepower track on Saturday, Sept. 18, served as a turning point for Keselowski. He told his crew chief early that the No. 2 Team Penske Ford was running extremely well and that he was happy overall. These comments sparked skepticism among the NBC Sports broadcast crew, but Keselowski continued to showcase a strong car throughout the race. He ultimately raced his way to a sixth-place finish, his second top-10 of the playoffs.
Keselowski will now head to the Round of 12 that features tracks where he has previous success in 2021. The first will take place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he finished second behind Larson on March 7. This race will serve as a major test for the No. 2 team given the 550-horsepower setup.
The Round of 12 will continue with a trip to Talladega Superspeedway, the site of Keselowski’s only 2021 win. He won the Geico 500 on April 25 after taking control on the final restart and passing Matt DiBenedetto. This race will feature a different setup with only 450 horsepower instead of 550.
The last race of the Round of 12 will take place at the Charlotte Roval, which features the 750-horsepower setup. Keselowski only has three starts at the road course during his Cup Series career. His best finish is fifth in 2019.
3 Hendrick Motorsports Drivers Have Work To Do
Larson is the winner of six races and the regular-season champion, keeping him the favorite to win the Cup Series championship. His three teammates, however, are in a more precarious position after barely locking up spots in the Round of 12.
Byron is in the most dangerous spot. He is one point above the cutline after overcoming a 16-point deficit at Bristol Motor Speedway. Bowman is next, sitting two points above the cutline. The driver of the No. 48 Ally Racing Chevrolet entered the Bristol Night Race tied with Kurt Busch on the cutline, but he raced his way to a fifth-place finish and earned enough points to move on in the playoffs.
Elliott is in the best position of the trio. He clinched his spot in the Round of 12 midway through the final stage of the Bristol race after accumulating enough points. A flat tire hurt Elliott and relegated him to a 25th-place finish, but the defending champion remains eight points above the cutline heading toward Las Vegas.