Denny Hamlin at Bristol Motor Speedway. (HHP/Andrew Coppley)

Playoff Update: Previewing The Round of 12

One round of NASCAR Cup Series Playoff action is complete, with four drivers’ championship hopes dashed as the field was cut from 16 drivers to 12. 

Former champions Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano, along with Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael McDowell, were eliminated following Saturday’s race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. 

The points have been reset again heading into the Round of 12 this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Let’s examine the latest playoff grid and where every driver stands:

Solidly Safe

1. William Byron (+25)

A quiet but productive first round allowed William Byron to cruise into the Round of 12 and regain the top spot in the standings.

With two top-10 finishes and a worst finish of 15th (Kansas Speedway), Byron wasn’t flashy, but got the job done to advance. 

Byron finished ninth on Saturday night. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has two consecutive top-10 finishes at Texas, including a second-place effort in 2021. 

2. Martin Truex Jr. (+25)

After fighting near the cutline during the Round of 16, Martin Truex Jr. sneaked into the next round of the NASCAR Playoffs. 

The regular season champion finished 19th at Bristol, two laps down, after making contact with the wall.

May 01, 2023:  at Dover Motor Speedway in Dover, Delaware. (HHP/Jacy Norgaard)
Martin Truex Jr. at Dover Motor Speedway in May, 2023. (HHP/Jacy Norgaard)

“It feels really good. I don’t know that this round could have gone any worse,” Truex said. “To have to come to Bristol and get through – we knew it was going to be tough. This has not been a very good place for us. We had a decent Bass Pro Toyota tonight. Just got behind on track position. Got a lap down, and then we were kind of stuck. 

“We stuck with it, and just tried to go as hard as we could all night, and luckily it all played out. Definitely excited about the next round and the reset, hopefully, we will keep from having so much bad luck.”

Despite three consecutive finishes of 18th or worse in the first round, a new round gives Truex an automatic 15 bonus points for winning the regular season title. 

The 2017 Cup Series champion has never won at the 1.5-mile oval in Ft. Worth, though, he boasts three runner-up results in 33 starts. 

3. Denny Hamlin (+21)

There’s no driver as confident as Denny Hamlin right now, whether fans like it or not. After his victory Saturday at Bristol, Hamlin was adamant about his playoff outlook.

“It’s our year. I just feel like we’ve got to put it all together,” Hamlin said. “We’ve got the speed at every different type of race track. Nothing to stop us at this point.”

A second-place finish at Kansas, followed by a victory at Bristol has the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team rolling into the Round of 12.

Hamlin has three previous victories at Texas with an average finish of 13.6 in 32 starts. 

Safe, But Not Secure

4. Kyle Larson (+12)

Kyle Larson secured his spot into the next round of the playoffs by winning the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.). 

The Hendrick Motorsports driver was nearly flawless in the Round of 16, as he finished fourth at Kansas and ran second to Hamlin at Bristol.

Now, the 2021 Cup Series champion surges into Texas with a victory and six top-10 finishes in 15 starts there. 

Chris Buescher cuts a tire down in the closing stages of the race at Kansas Speedway. (HHP/Tim Parks)

5. Chris Buescher (+10)

If it wasn’t for a blown tire at the end of the race at Kansas, Chris Buescher arguably had one of the strongest first rounds a playoff driver could have. 

He finished third at Darlington and fourth at Bristol, providing momentum for the RFK Racing team.

“Yeah, it was a great day for us,” Buescher said. “Our BuildSubmarines.com Ford Mustang was really fast. We’re not disappointed in the car at all. Obviously, we want to win and coming off the win last time being close and seeing it was good, but we had a really good race car. We needed a touch more to go fight for that win, but I’m really proud of this group.”

Texas remains a mystery for Buescher, as he’s never earned a top-10 finish in 13 starts. 

On The Bubble

6. Kyle Busch (+8)

Kyle Busch’s Round of 16 was a struggle as he notched one top-10 finish (seventh at Kansas) and two finishes outside the top 10. 

The Richard Childress Racing driver hasn’t shown the same speed he had when he put the No. 8 Chevrolet in victory lane three times early in the season. 

Texas may be the track for a resurgence for the two-time Cup Series champion, as he’s won four times and earned 18 top 10s in 32 starts. 

7. Christopher Bell (+5)

Christopher Bell reeled off three consecutive poles to begin the Round of 16 and managed to secure two top-10 finishes with a best result of third at Bristol.

Bell’s lack of translating poles into wins may draw concern, though the JGR driver survived and advanced. 

Let’s not forget Bell ripped off two buzzer-beater-type victories in the Round of 12 and Round 8 last season to make the Championship Four. The driver of the No. 20 enters Texas with two third-place finishes in four starts at the track. 

8. Tyler Reddick (+3)

Tyler Reddick locked into the Round of 12 via a win at Kansas, his second of the season. 

The 23XI Racing driver’s season has been fairly modest, though, he had two top-two finishes in the first three playoff races.

Reddick doesn’t have much room for error with a three-point gap above the cutline, though heads to Texas as the defending race winner. 

Outside Looking In

9. Ross Chastain (-3)

Ross Chastain hasn’t shown the same speed he had last season, though, he moved on to the next round after one top-10 finish in the three playoff races.

Without a top-10 result at Texas, there’s a bit of unknown for how the Trackhouse Racing driver will fare.

10. Brad Keselowski (-3)

Brad Keselowski drove a clean and consistent Round of 16 as he notched three straight top-10 finishes.

“It’s good to move into the next round,” Keselowski said after last Saturday’s 500-lap race. “We certainly are going to have our work cut out for us, but that’s what this thing is all about. 

“It was a good day for us for both cars. It was a good Round of 16 for us and let the Round of 12 begin.”

The RFK Racing driver is back below the cutline in large part due to his lack of a victory this season. Keselowski has four straight top-10 runs at Texas, along with two runner-up finishes in 27 starts there. 

11. Ryan Blaney (-6)

Ryan Blaney punched his ticket to the Round of 12 after notching two top-12 efforts in the first round. Blaney was a non-factor at Bristol, with his No. 12 Team Penske Ford finishing two laps off the pace.

Beginning the next round six points below the cutline, Blaney will need three strong results to advance into the Round of 8.

With eight top 10s in his last nine runs at Texas, including a victory in last season’s All-Star race, Blaney may be poisedfor a stout run. 

12. Bubba Wallace (-14)

Perhaps the feel-good story of the playoffs so far, Bubba Wallace entered the postseason three weeks ago as the last driver on the playoff grid. 

A strong seventh-place finish at Darlington and a 14th-place effort at Bristol helped lift the 23XI Racing driver to the Round of 12. 

Wallace has his work cut out for him in the next three races as he looks to dig out of a 14-point hole. The 29-year-old heads to Texas with only one top 10 in eight starts.