CONCORD, N.C. – As the NASCAR Cup Series approaches the first elimination race of the 2021 playoffs at Bristol Motor Speedway, three Hendrick Motorsports drivers are eager to clinch their spot in the next round.
2020 Cup Series champion Chase Elliott is ranked seventh in playoff points and sits in the middle of the pack with a 20-point spread among positions five through 10. Alex Bowman is on the bubble, currently tied for the 12th in the standings with Kurt Busch.
William Byron also is looking for a Round of 12 spot and is 15th in the standings, just 18 markers out of12th. A win by any of the three drivers will move them into the Round of 12. Kyle Larson already secured his spot by virtue of playoff points.
Here is what Elliott, Byron and Bowman need to do at Bristol to secure a position in the next round of the playoffs.
If Elliott does not win at Bristol, the 25-year-old driver needs to tally 37 points to guarantee he will move on to the next round no matter what any other competitor does. In his 10 starts at the track in the NASCAR Cup Series, Elliott has three top-five finishes, five top-10s, one pole position and an All-Star Race win in July 2020.
Elliott is currently six points behind sixth place and two points ahead of eighth. While only a few points separate him and the next positions, a well-rounded night of racing for the No. 9 team should advance Elliott to the Round of 12.
Byron is currently 18 markers below the final transfer spot. If he comes up short of a win, he will need a combination of scenarios to play out for him to move on. The winner of the race also could have a huge impact on how Byron will fare, especially if a driver below the bubble takes home the checkered flag to advance. He needs at least three of the following situations to play out if he is unable to win at Bristol:
- Earn at least 13 or more points than Tyler Reddick
- Score at least 18 or more points than Bowman and Kurt Busch
- Post at least 21 or more points than Aric Almirola
- Score at least 26 or more points than Kyle Busch
- Earn at least 35 or more points than Christopher Bell
- Post at least 37 or more points than Elliott
- Earn at least 43 or more points than Kevin Harvick
- Score at least 46 or more points than Ryan Blaney
While it seems like a tall order, Byron by no means is done with the postseason. He scored a sixth-place finish at the dirt track at Bristol earlier this year and the 23-year-old driver notched his career-best finish at the .533-mile paved track in May 2020 when he crossed the finish line eighth.
Byron also had his back against the wall in the 2020 regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway. He garnered his first Cup victory in the must-win situation, taking the final playoff spot after he crossed the finish line first.
Bowman’s path to the next round also proves to be tricky if he doesn’t walk away with a win at Bristol. The 28-year-old driver needs to overtake at least one driver ahead of him in the playoff standings while not letting any driver below him pass his total.
With no help from the field, Bowman needs 55 points to clinch a next-round spot. While he could do this without a win, he would need to finish in the front of the field for each stage during the race and hope a couple of playoff drivers ahead of him don’t fare as well. Bowman’s best bet is to run a smooth, clean race without any on-track incidences at the chaotic track.
Bowman has captured one top-five finish and two top-10s at Bristol in his Cup Series career. In July 2020, he also notched a top-10 finish in the All-Star Race, finishing his night in eighth. Given Bowman’s success at Richmond and Dover in the spring, he has proven he can get the job done on shorter tracks.
Tune in this Saturday, Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN to see Elliott, Byron and Bowman fight to punch their ticket to the next round of the Cup Series playoffs at “The Last Great Colosseum.”