CONCORD, N.C. – The first round of the playoffs will end this Saturday after the race at Bristol Motor Speedway, and four drivers will be on the outside looking in as the hunt for the 2020 championship continues.
Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman are all in the hunt for their first NASCAR Cup Series title. Heading into the final race of the Round of 16, Elliott is seventh in the playoff standings with 28 playoff points above the cutoff and Bowman is eighth with 27 points above the bubble. Byron is right below the cutoff line in 13th and is a mere three points under.
Three spots are already taken – Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski are in through their playoff wins at Darlington and Richmond, respectively. Denny Hamlin claimed the third spot through the amount of playoff points he’s collected. That leaves nine positions left.
An outright win would secure a berth in the next round for the Hendrick Motorsports teammates but there are other ways the three drivers can move on. Here is everything they need to do to make it to the Round of 12.
Elliott is in the middle of the pack when it comes to the playoff standings. Barring a disastrous performance at Bristol, he should be able to advance to the next round. No matter what any other driver does, Elliott will move on to the Round of 12 if he earns 30 playoff points.
He already has the feel of Bristol Motor Speedway down. Elliott placed 22nd at “Thunder Valley” in May but that stemmed from a late-race accident he had with another driver while battling for first place. Less than two months later, Elliott was in victory lane at Bristol after he won the All-Star Race.
Even if a dark-horse driver wins at Bristol, Elliott’s standing in the points should remain solid as long as the No. 9 team performs well and he’s able to collect playoff points.
Out of the three drivers, Byron has the most difficult task ahead of him. While he is only three points below the cutoff line, he needs an outright win without any help from the field to move on.
Should every driver ahead of Byron perform reasonably well, Byron would need to leapfrog Clint Bowyer, who sits three points above the bubble. This is assuming the drivers who are ranked lower than Byron do not earn enough points from the race to jump over him in the standings.
Cole Custer is eight points below the cutoff line, Matt DiBenedetto is 25 under and Ryan Blaney, who rounds out the current playoff drivers, is 27 below the bubble. Luckily for Byron, he has done well at Bristol this season. The 22-year-old driver placed eighth at the track in May and earned his way into the All-Star Race by winning the second stage of the All-Star Open.
Bowman’s situation is very similar to Elliott’s. He is 27 points above the cutoff line and will move on to the Round of 12 as long as he doesn’t have a catastrophic finish. The 27-year-old driver can advance to the next segment of the playoffs with 31 points from the race, no matter how any other driver performs.
Bowman has momentum on his side. He has recorded four top-10 finishes in a row, including the first two playoff races this season. He also finished eighth during the All-Star Race at Bristol. If Bowman continues his top-10 streak, his Round of 12 spot should be secure.
Fans can watch Elliott, Byron and Bowman duke it out for a chance to move on in the playoffs Saturday, Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.