Playoff Pulse: Round of 12 set after Bristol Night Race

·4 min read
Playoff Pulse: Round of 12 set after Bristol Night Race

Four drivers were eliminated from title contention in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs elimination race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night, resetting the standings board and setting the Round of 12.

WINNER

Chris Buescher used excellent speed and marvelous strategy to earn his first win of the season and first for newly formed RFK Racing, continuing the trend of non-playoff drivers dominating throughout the Round of 16. Buescher’s win is his first since Pocono Raceway in 2016 and resulted in trouble for drivers below the elimination line needing to win.

RELATED: Unofficial results | Full playoff grid

ELIMINATED DRIVERS

Tyler Reddick, Richard Childress Racing
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing
Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing

ADVANCING TO THE ROUND OF 12
(Ordered by points at end of Bristol)

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, 2160 points
William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, 2138 points
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, 2125 points
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, 2120 points
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, 2117 points
Ross Chastain, Trackhouse Racing, 2116 points
Joey Logano, Team Penske, 2100 points
Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, 2095 points
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, 2093 points
Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas Racing, 2081 points
Daniel Suárez, Trackhouse Racing, 2074 points
Austin Cindric, Team Penske, 2069 points

WHO’S HOT?

Christopher Bell. Bell has arguably been the best driver in the playoffs. Three top-five results in the opening three races have the No. 20 team looking like a title favorite. Still, Bell hasn’t been to Victory Lane since New Hampshire Motor Speedway this summer, but he has been extremely consistent at the front of the field. Based on his consistency, which has eluded many of the other playoff drivers so far, he is arguably one of the favorites to make it to the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway in November.

Like Bell, Denny Hamlin has been a consistent threat to win races in nearly every race since Darlington Raceway. Two runner-up finishes in this round (Darlington and Kansas) and a ninth-place finish at Bristol have Hamlin focused and a serious contender to earn his first Cup Series championship. Hamlin and Bell have avoided the mishaps that have plagued their Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., so if that can continue, Hamlin is certainly on the path to contend at Phoenix, as well.

WHO’S NOT

Daniel Suárez. Suárez has not been terrible and has flashed solid speed during the Round of 16, particularly in qualifying. But a few miscues have him just a step below the other title contenders. An unfortunate wreck collected the No. 99 and a few others at Bristol and Suárez finished in 19th, six laps down. Heading to the Round of 12, these types of mistakes and efforts in qualifying could be the difference in the few points needed to advance to the next round. It is just a tight race to the top.

NEXT RACE

The Round of 12 opens on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 3:30 p.m. ET with the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (USA Network, NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

WHO IT FAVORS

Ryan Blaney. Blaney has not finished outside of the top eight at Texas since 2019, rallying for a sixth-place result a season ago in the playoff race. Not to mention he also won the All-Star Race this year, showcasing his prowess around the 1.5-mile oval. Though he has never won at the Fort Worth-based track — his best finish is runner-up in summer 2018 (also a playoff race) — his speed this season has been unquestionable. If Blaney is going to get to Victory Lane before the end of the season, next Sunday’s race will be one of his best opportunities down the final stretch.

WHO IT HURTS

Alex Bowman. In 12 regular-season starts, Bowman has a shocking average finish of 24.5. It may not tell the whole story, but it is a worrying trend as Bowman hopes to keep up his serious momentum gained in the Round of 16. Bowman does have a fifth-place result in the 2020 playoff race (his first with the No. 48 team), but it is sandwiched between two finishes outside the top 30 in his last three starts at Texas.