Bubba Wallace and 23XI captured the checkered flag at Kansas Speedway last week marking his 2nd career win in the Cup Series, advancing the 45 to the round of 12 in the Owners Championship. Wallace’s win marks the 18th winner in 28 races for the 2022 season; the most all-time in NASCAR history. However, for the second straight week a non-playoff driver has won in the Round of 16. We have one more race in the first round of the playoffs and several questions are yet to be answered. Let's dive into it as NASCAR heads to the Last Great Colosseum, Bristol Motor Speedway under the lights.
Bristol is a track of memorable NASCAR finishes. Legendary rivalries have had climatic moments at this track like Labonte v Earnhardt, Busch v Edwards and just last year, Harvick v Elliott. This track almost always breeds drama, chaos, and amazing short track racing. Heading into Bristol, points leader Christopher Bell has a 58-point cushion over the cutline. Bell is also the only driver as of right now locked into the round of 12 before Bristol. The four drivers below the cutline currently are Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Chase Briscoe, and Kevin Harvick. Busch, Dillon, and Briscoe all need good stages, however Harvick is basically in a must win scenario.
First let’s talk about the last winner at Bristol, Kyle Busch. Even though it was on Dirt in the Spring, I expect Busch to be strong again for sure. His dominance that he demonstrates on this track is almost record setting. Kyle has a total of eight wins on the concrete version of Bristol so he for sure knows how to get around the half-mile. Plus, he’s fresh off a contract announcement at RCR. I expect Kyle to get back to his winning ways and he’s my favorite for Bristol.
I also expect good runs for a certain Chevy team, Hendrick Motorsports. Kyle Larson won this event in 2021, and his teammates always run well at Bristol as well. Byron and Bowman have looked strong through the playoffs with both getting 2 Top 10s in the first two races of the postseason, (Darlington, Kansas). I expect Top 10 finishes for all four Hendrick Drivers. With luck, they will all advance through to the Round of 12.
Bristol has always been a tough track for one playoff driver in particular. Ross Chastain doesn’t have a Top 10 finish at Bristol in the Cup Series. He is not the best at short tracks and I predict the #1 to have a rough race. He’s currently +26 above the cutline but with drivers like Reddick, Busch and Harvick all below him that are great at Bristol, the Trackhouse driver may be in trouble to miss the Round of 12.
So who are my predictions to win? My first pick is Kyle Busch. The 18 is always fast at Bristol so I expect the same this weekend. My second pick is Alex Bowman. He is having a great playoff run and Bristol is a strong track for the 48 team. I could see Bowman getting his first gladiator sword this weekend. My underdog pick is a guy who hasn’t won yet this season and is not in the Playoffs, Martin Truex Jr. Truex is currently 17th in points but with the past two winners in the Cup Series being not in the Playoffs, I could see Truex breaking through for his first win of the season, continuing the trend of non-playoff winners.
Now who will miss the Round of 12. I think Austin Cindric, Austin Dillon, Chase Briscoe, and Kevin Harvick will exit the playoffs after Bristol. Cindric, Briscoe and Dillon have been average at best these playoffs and Harvick has three straight DNF’s these past weeks. If Harvick doesn’t win, he won’t make the round of 12. Even though Harvick is strong at Bristol, I don’t see a win for the #4 camp. This first round would also eliminate Stewart Haas Racing from the Playoffs and would take away three of the five Ford drivers in the Chase for the Cup.
The Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway will take place on September 17th 2022 at 7:30pmEST on USA.
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