“I never got to race against Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt, but I raced against Jimmie Johnson and that’s something I’m very proud of.”
The lineup for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Round of 8 will be decided in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
Entering the race, the final event in the Round of 12, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the cutline. Bowman will miss the race — and thus the cutoff — as he continues to battle concussion-like symptoms. Noah Gragson is scheduled to drive the No. 48 Chevrolet Sunday.
Cindric is tied with Chase Briscoe for the eighth playoff spot, but Briscoe would claim it on the tiebreaker. Byron is 11 points back, and Bell is 33. Hendrick Motorsports has appealed the penalty to Byron that dropped him below the cutline. That appeal is scheduled to be heard Thursday.
Any playoff driver who wins Sunday’s race and isn’t already qualified — Chase Elliott qualified for the Round of 8 by winning last week at Talladega Superspeedway — automatically advances to the Round of 8.
Drivers to watch Sunday at the Roval (2 p.m., ET, NBC), the final road-course race of the season:
- Points position: 1st
- Last three races: Won at Talladega, 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol
- Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2019 and 2020
Elliott is the clear favorite to win a second championship. He won Sunday at Talladega to advance to the Round of 8 and can relax Sunday at Charlotte having punched his ticket. Relaxing isn’t likely, however, as Elliott will be among the favorites to win.
- Points position: 2nd
- Last three races: 2nd at Talladega, 4th at Texas, 30th at Bristol
- Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2018.
Blaney continues along a path that could result in him winning the Cup championship without winning a race. He came within an eyelash of winning Sunday at Talladega but fell victim to Chase Elliott’s last-lap charge. He should be a threat Sunday at the Roval, where he has four straight top 10s.
- Points position: 6th
- Last three races: 18th at Talladega, 9th at Texas, 5th at Bristol
- Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2021
Larson’s last win — and his last top-four finish — came at Watkins Glen seven races ago. He is 18 points over the cutline entering Sunday’s race.
QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
- Points position: 9th
- Last three races: 9th at Talladega, 15th at Texas, 20th at Bristol
- Past at CMS Roval: Sunday will mark his first Cup race. Has three top threes in four Xfinity starts.
Cindric hasn’t won since the season-opening Daytona 500 and is one of five drivers still in the playoffs who own only one victory this year. His ninth-place run at Talladega ended a streak of four straight finishes of 12th or worse.
- Points position: 7th
- Last three races: 8th at Talladega, 12th at Texas, 19th at Bristol
- Past at CMS Roval: Best finish in four starts is 13th
Suarez is 12 points above the cutline entering Sunday’s race. He has never led a lap at the Roval and has never finished in the top 10.
- Points position: 8th
- Last three races: 10th at Talladega, 5th at Texas, 14th at Bristol
- Past at CMS Roval: Finished 22nd last year in his only Cup start
Briscoe is teetering on top of the cutline in search of a spot in the Round of 8. He hasn’t won since the fourth race of the year at Phoenix and had a poor performance at the Roval last year.
AJ Allmendinger is getting another shot at success in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday that Allmendinger, currently chasing the Xfinity Series championship, will drive full-time in Kaulig entries in the Cup Series next season.
Allmendinger raced in Cup from 2007 to 2018 but won only one time — at Watkins Glen International — across those years. He moved to the Xfinity Series part-time with Kaulig in 2019, winning on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. He won twice in 2020 and five times in 2021 and is a favorite to win the Xfinity championship this year. He has won four Xfinity races this season, including last Sunday at Talladega.
Allmendinger, 40, will drive Kaulig’s No. 16 car in Cup next year. Justin Haley will drive the team’s No. 31.
Chandler Smith will replace Allmendinger in the Xfinity Series next year.
“It’s crazy how the last five years of my life have gone,” Allmendinger said. “More than anything, I love this organization. I know the fans get tired of me talking about all the men and women of Kaulig Racing. This is not a race team. This is a huge family.
“There will be tough times and growing pains, for sure. But I love what they’re about, and they believe in me. I’ll be OK whether it’s good or bad.”
Team owner Matt Kaulig said Allmendinger is “one of the best in the world at every type of track. He’s done so much for Kaulig Racing and our program. He’s a gigantic part of what we’re building.”
Team officials said Allmendinger has a multi-year contract.
Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.
Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).
William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.
There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.
Favorites to be No. 20
This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.
Among the favorites to do so:
Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.
Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.
Will history repeat?
Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.
Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.
Will chaos continue?
Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:
In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.
In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.
In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.
Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?
Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.
The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.
This week’s schedule and forecast
(All times Eastern)
Saturday, Oct. 8
Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.
- 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
- 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
- 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
- 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
- 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Sunday, Oct. 9
Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.
- 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.
The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.