The start of the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (HHP/Harold Hinson)

Playoff Update: Then There Were 8

The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs has passed the halfway mark and only eight drivers remain in the hunt for a championship.

Last week at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway ROVAL, A.J. Allmendinger stole the thunder of the playoff drivers by winning the race. Ross Chastain, Bubba Wallace, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch were eliminated from the playoffs. 

The points reset as the series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Take a look at the playoff standings and where each driver stands entering the Round of 8. 

Safe, For Now

1. William Byron (+20)

William Byron was the most consistent driver during the Round of 12 as he completed the three-race slate with an average finish of 1.66. 

A win at Texas Motor Speedway and two runner-up results continued Byron’s positive momentum. 

The Hendrick Motorsports driver boasts the most wins (six) by any driver this season and has only finished outside the top 10 once (15th, Kansas Speedway) since the playoffs started. 

Byron won the March race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (+15)

It’s been a broken record type of playoff run for Martin Truex Jr. thus far. While he has an average finish of 21.3 through the first six playoff races, Truex continues to survive, advance and regain his 15 bonus points from winning the regular season title.

Martin Truex Jr. (HHP/Chris Owens photo)

While Truex admits the aid of his regular season title has been helpful, he understands the No. 19 team won’t be able to squeak by with their recent performance. 

“Stage points and bonus points certainly helped us a ton. I didn’t create the system. We used it to our advantage. That won’t get us through the next one,” Truex said. “The next one, you’ve got to be running up front. Two winners of the next three races are probably going to be playoff guys that are still going. 

“Need to turn it up and we need to figure it out quickly. That’s the beauty and that’s the thing that sucks about this deal. I’m sure there are guys who are upset. They outran us enough to get in, but they didn’t have the bonus points. 

“We have some really good tracks for us this round, so I’m hoping to go out to Vegas and have a good run this weekend and we’ll fight hard the next three races and see where we land with our Bass Pro Shops Camry. Vegas was good for us in the spring and I would expect us to run up front this weekend.”

Truex owns two victories at Las Vegas and an average finish of 10th in 23 starts.

3. Denny Hamlin (+11)

Denny Hamlin locked into the Round of 8 after accumulating enough stage points during the first two stages at the ROVAL. 

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver kicked off the second round with two straight top-five finishes before getting wrecked out of the race at Charlotte. 

With only 11 points to the good, Hamlin’s room for error is much smaller. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota won at the 1.5-mile oval in 2021 and has an average finish of 12.8 in 23 previous starts there. 

4. Kyle Larson (+3)

Kyle Larson will have a busy week as he’ll compete in Tuesday’s High Limit Sprint Car Series finale at Indiana’s Lincoln Park Speedway before heading to the hallowed grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for his rookie test aboard an Indy car.

To add to his week is his typical day job, where the Hendrick Motorsports driver will look to rebound from a mediocre Round of 12. 

Two finishes of 15th (Talladega) and 13th (Charlotte), along with a crash at Texas late in the race have Larson skidding into the Round of 8. 

Despite his string of bad luck, the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet has one victory at Las Vegas, along with a runner-up finish to teammate Byron in March. 

Outside Looking In

5. Chris Buescher (-3)

Arguably the surprise of this season’s Cup Series Playoffs has been Chris Buescher. Three victories in five weeks prior to the playoffs have helped propel the No. 17 RFK Racing team’s efforts to this point.

Advancing to the Round of 8, Buescher sits three points below the cutline, the first time he’s been in the danger zone during this year’s playoffs. 

Though a solid seventh-place finish at the ROVAL should give Buescher positive momentum. 

Las Vegas, however, has not been kind to Buescher in year’s past. His only top-10 finish came in 2020 (ninth) while he has an average finish of 17.8 in 13 starts. 

6. Christopher Bell (-8)

Christopher Bell on track at Michigan. (Stephen Hopkins Photo)

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell continues to click away solid results throughout the playoffs. While a 14th (Talladega) and 15th (Charlotte) aren’t anything to write home about, Bell has simply gotten the job done.

It’s been a fairly strong playoff start for Bell, as he’s scored three poles and three top 10’s. Bell, however, enters the Round of 8 already eight points in the hole. In his position, Bell can’t afford many finishes outside the top 10.

Bell finished fifth at Las Vegas in March and also owns one pole award at the track. 

7. Tyler Reddick (-8)

Tyler Reddick’s playoff run has been up and down. A win at Kansas Speedway, runner-up result at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and a solid sixth at Charlotte have all been highlights of what the No. 45 23XI Racing team can do.

Though half of Reddick’s playoff finishes have been outside the top 15, entering the Round of 8 with an eight-point deficit will be a test for the 27-year-old. 

Prior to his 15th-place finish earlier this season, Reddick had a string of three straight top-seven finishes at Las Vegas.

8. Ryan Blaney (-10)

Ryan Blaney continues to avoid elimination even with four finishes of 12th or worse in the playoffs. A dramatic victory at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway solidified his place in the Round of 8.

It won’t get much easier for the Team Penske driver as he faces the largest gap of the eight remaining drivers (10 points below the cutline). 

Heading to Las Vegas, Blaney has shown plenty of speed at the 1.5-mile oval. He snagged five top-five runs and an average finish of 12.4.