Analyzing The NASCAR Playoff Field Before Bristol Cutoff Race

Analyzing The NASCAR Playoff Field Before Bristol Cutoff Race

by September 17, 2021 1 comment

The NASCAR playoffs are now a couple of races in. Meaning the first of three cutoff races is just a day away from the Last Great Coliseum at Bristol. Entering tomorrow, just three drivers, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr, and Kyle Larson have secured a spot into the Round of 12. While some drivers are safer than others, nine spots are still up for grabs, and just about anything can happen at Bristol. With that said, here is how the bulk of the playoff field stands entering the Bristol Night Race.

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(Best finish of round shown in case of tiebreaking scenarios) (All Bristol stats exclude Dirt Race)

Safe But Not Out Of The Woods

No. 22 Joey Logano– Team Penske (40 Points Above Cutoff) (Best Finish of Round: Fifth)

Entering this postseason on a brutal stretch, the 2018 Cup Champion has had a phenomenal Round of 16 to this point. Scoring a pair of top 10s at Darlington and Richmond has given the Connecticut native a relatively easy path to the next round. Logano is in a spot to clinch at the end of the second stage if he can secure 14 total stage points. In the event, he secures no stage points, a finish of 23rd or better would also do the trick. He is the only driver in the playoff field that can clinch before the race ends.

Good Spot But Less Manageable

No. 12 Ryan Blaney– Team Penske (28 Points Above Cutoff) (Best Finish of Round: 10th)

Blaney more or less is on the opposite trajectory of his teammate Logano. He entered the playoffs scorching hot, with top-fives in five of the last six races, and wins in the final two. A blown right front would derail a promising outing at Darlington. The good news however is that Blaney rebounded at Richmond with a 10th. Had he not done so, the possibility of him being knocked out in the first round would have drastically gone up. Blaney’s clinching scenario is to gain 26 points by the end of the race.

No. 4 Kevin Harvick– Stewart-Haas Racing (25 Points Above Cutoff) (Best Finish of Round: Fifth)

Harvick, who was/still is on pace for his first winless year since 2009 has seemingly found some mojo. After a stretch of a pair of 14ths and a 15th to enter the postseason as the 16 seed, Harvick has finished top ten in both playoff races. Despite not having the playoff points buffer he had a year ago, incidents to other drivers and him and those two finishes have him sitting pretty going into Bristol. 29 points is the magic number for Happy Harvick. If he can avoid disaster and run as he has so far, a round two birth is all but guaranteed.

Not A Great Spot But Could Be Worse

No. 9 Chase Elliott– Hendrick Motorsports (19 Points Above Cutoff) (Best Finish of Round: Fourth)

A fourth last weekend in Richmond makes up for a 31st via DNF at Darlington for the defending champion. That said, a 19 point buffer at Bristol could be wiped out at any moment. Elliott has only finished in the top 10 at Bristol in half of his trips there in the Cup series. However, his stage results at the half-mile banked oval have been good. He has earned stage points 11 times in 16 stages and won three of those last four. With stage points at a premium for the Dawsonville, Georgia native, expect him to make some late pushes in the stages to gain some. Elliott’s magic number is 35.

No. 20 Christopher Bell– Joe Gibbs Racing (17 Points Above Cutoff) (Best Finish of Round: Third)

If Bell does make it out of round one, his third at Richmond will be a majority of the reason. Especially after a brutal outing at Darlington, while already entering with a lack of points. As it relates to a Bristol sample size, he only has two Cup races under his belt there. One of those finishes was a ninth for what it is worth, and he does have an Xfinity race win there back in 2019. Bell also has a unique clinching scenario. If Aric Almirola ends up winning, however unlikely that is, Bell would need to gain 37 points. If that scenario does not happen, that number drops by one.

No. 2 Brad Keselowski– Team Penske (13 Points Above Cutoff) (Best Finish of Round: Seventh)

Despite a good start to the postseason, Keselowski is only a baker’s dozen points clear of the cutoff. A big reason why is he has only picked up four stage points so far. With that said, if he runs how he has so far, Keselowski should be more than fine. If it comes down to it, however, his magic number is 41 points.

Danger Zone

No. 18 Kyle Busch– Joe Gibbs Racing (Eight Points Above Cutoff) (Best Finish of Round: Ninth)

The Lady in Black was not too kind to Rowdy Busch. After a tire failure ended his night early, he brought his car back into the pits in a less than ideal fashion. A number of people had to scatter quickly as he was running a bit too fast. As a result, he was fined $75k by NASCAR. The good news is Busch got back on track with a ninth at Richmond and now is set to run at his best track. The eight-time Bristol winner has finished top five in six of his last seven outings there on the asphalt and averages a finish just north of 12th in 31 career outings. Even with a high probability of success looming, it is still Bristol and anything can happen. KB18’s magic number is 46 points.

No. 10 Aric Almirola- Stewart-Hass Racing (Three Points Above Cutoff) (Best Finish of Round: 14th)

Past his New Hampshire win, Almirola has been consistent in his last six races. The issue with this is that he has floated around the top 15 mark for the last month, and absolutely needs to be better, or else his season is done. Another bad omen is a career average finish at Bristol is a dismal 24.13, which ranks 24th among active full-time Cup drivers. With names like Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, and William Byron in the rearview, the odds are not in the favor of Almirola. His magic number is 51 points to automatically make it through.

No. 1 Kurt Busch- Chip Ganassi Racing (Zero Points Above Cutoff) (Best Finish of Round: Sixth)

Busch would have been easily 20-plus points clear of the cutline if not for a loose wheel ending his day at Richmond. Now he is at risk of his second round one knockout in three years. The good news is that like his brother, Bristol is also the elder Busch brother’s best track, having six wins at the Last Great Coliseum. While in a bad spot points-wise, Busch has been good all year and should likely be good if he can avoid disaster. His magic number sits at 54 points, as does this next driver.

No. 48 Alex Bowman- Hendrick Motorsports (Zero Points Above Cutoff) (Best Finish of Round: 12th)

Bowman had about as rough a race without finishing outside of the top 30 as possible at Darlington. Getting into an incident early with his teammate Byron and never really recovering. Richmond was better, finishing 12th, but that creates another issue. The elder Busch Brother currently holds the better finish tiebreaker, if the points stick as they are entering, Bowman is out unless he finishes fifth and Busch does not finish better but wait it gets worse. Bowman also hasn’t recorded a top 10 finish at Bristol since 2018 and has just one top-five that came that same year.

Hail Mary

No. 8 Tyler Reddick– Richard Childress Racing (Five Points Below Cutoff) (Best Finish of Round: 15th)

Despite being on the outside looking in, Reddick has done fine so far this playoff, but that is not cutting it. Being five points out, he absolutely needs help to move on, but just about anything can happen in 500 laps at Bristol. Do not count out the back-to-back Xfinity champion just yet, five points is still a manageable deficit to work with.

No. 24 William Byron- Hendrick Motorsports (18 Points Below Cutoff) (Best Finish of Round: 19th)

Byron was, unfortunately, a victim of circumstances at Darlington in his incident with Bowman. That however did not end his night, what did was knocking down the wall in turn one near the end of stage two. That more or less was the death knell for his playoff hopes, he needs multiple drivers to have the most catastrophic days possible come Saturday.

No. 34 Michael McDowell– Front Row Racing (38 Points Below Cutoff) (Best Finish of Round: 28th)

While not a favorite by any stretch, it is sad to see how the first two playoff races have gone for McDowell. An almost immediate wreck at Darlington forced him out of the race. That was then followed up by a 28th at Richmond finishing multiple laps down. While there are scenarios where he can make it in without winning, that is by far the most realistic way he advances.


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