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Playoff Pulse: Sizing up the postseason field after Sunday's Texas tussle

Playoff Pulse: Sizing up the postseason field after Sunday's Texas tussle

After the fourth race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, here‘s a quick look at the playoff picture. The Round of 12 opener at Texas is in the books, with two more races — Talladega (Oct. 1) and Charlotte’s road course (Oct. 8) — remaining before the championship-eligible field is trimmed from a dozen drivers to just eight.

WINNER

William Byron sprang into Victory Lane with a late-race maneuver that left him in front for just the final six laps of the 267-lap contest at Texas Motor Speedway. The win marked a milestone with Hendrick Motorsports’ 300th Cup Series victory and his sixth of the 2023 campaign. The 25-year-old speedster is now safely into the next round of the postseason, and he reached double digits with career win No. 10.

RELATED: Unofficial race results | At-track photos: Texas

WHO’S HOT?

Bubba Wallace. The 23XI Racing driver ranked last among the 12 remaining playoff-eligible drivers entering the round, but converted a solid performance with a third-place finish. Wallace secured his first pole position of the season in Saturday’s qualifying session, then led a career-best 111 laps on the hot Texas track. He’s still below the provisional elimination line, but it’s just a two-point gap rather than a 14-point deficit.

Denny Hamlin. Make it three consecutive top-five finishes for the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing veteran. Though he wasn’t a lap leader Sunday at Texas, Hamlin continued after an early pit-road collision with teammate Ty Gibbs to claim fifth at the checkers, steering clear of the havoc that struck other playoff contenders. He now ranks second in the playoff standings, with a hefty 37-point pad over the elimination mark.

WHO’S NOT?

Kyle Busch. “Rowdy” entered the Round of 12 with an eight-point cushion above the provisional elimination line, but terminal damage in a crash near the end of Stage 1 relegated the Richard Childress Racing driver to a 34th-place finish in the 36-car field. Busch was stumped for answers after registering his eighth consecutive finish outside the top five, and he now faces a significant deficit that’s working against his title hopes. He heads to next Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM, NBC Sports App) as the track’s most recent winner.

Ryan Blaney. A costly pit-road speeding penalty on a Lap 210 stop dropped Blaney’s No. 12 Ford from fifth place to 27th for the race’s final stretch. He regained a slight amount of the lost ground, but the miscue put him back in the pack, where he was caught up in a crash with 12 laps left. The 28th-place finish dug a deeper hole for the Team Penske driver to escape. Like Busch, Blaney has some Talladega success on his side — two wins, plus runner-up finishes there his last two times out.

BUBBLE WATCH

Rank

Driver

Cutoff

5

Martin Truex Jr.

19

6

Ross Chastain

12

7

Brad Keselowski

8

8

Kyle Larson

2

ELIMINATION LINE

9

Bubba Wallace

-2

10

Tyler Reddick

-3

11

Ryan Blaney

-11

12

Kyle Busch

-17