NASCAR Cup playoffs: Sizing up drivers looking to avoid elimination at Bristol

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The first elimination race of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs takes place Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

While Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson have advanced on either wins or points, the other 13 playoff drivers will race for nine remaining spots to the next round.

Entering Bristol, 25 points covers sixth-place Kevin Harvick down to Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman, who are tied on the 12th-place cutline to advance (Kurt Busch holds the tiebreaker of better finish in the Round of 16).

Bowman, Tyler Reddick, William Byron and Michael McDowell are below the cutline going into Saturday’s race on the .533-mile banked concrete track. Last year, the four drivers who came into this race below the cutline – Byron, Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney – were all eliminated.

As the axe prepares to drop in the first of three elimination races, let’s take a look at some of the drivers seeking to avoid it.

Kevin Harvick (+25 above playoff cutline)

  • Round of 16 finishes: Fifth at Darlington, eighth at Richmond (avg. of 38 points)
  • 2021 concrete track finishes: Sixth at Dover, fifth at Nashville Superspeedway (avg. of 38 points)
  • Bristol career: Three wins, average finish of 13.5 in 40 starts (defending Bristol Night Race winner)

Chase Elliott (+19 above playoff cutline)

  • Round of 16 finishes: 31st at Darlington, fourth at Richmond (avg. of 25.5 points)
  • 2021 concrete track finishes: Third at Dover, 39th – disqualified at Nashville Superspeedway (avg. of 25.5 points)
  • Bristol career: No wins in points races, avg. finish of 12.1 in 10 starts (has led laps in last five races). He won the All-Star Race at Bristol in 2020.

Christopher Bell (+17 above playoff cutline)

  • Round of 16 finishes: 20th at Darlington, third at Richmond (avg. of 32.5 points)
  • 2021 concrete track finishes: 21st at Dover, ninth at Nashville Superspeedway (avg. of 22 points)
  • Bristol career: No wins, avg. finish of 18.5 in two starts (has Bristol wins in Xfinity and Truck)

Brad Keselowski (+13 above playoff cutline)

  • Round of 16 finishes: Seventh at Darlington, 13th at Richmond (avg. of 29 points)
  • 2021 concrete track finishes: 16th at Dover, 23rd at Nashville Superspeedway (avg. of 21.5 points)
  • Bristol career: Three wins, avg. finish of 17.3 in 22 starts (has led laps in five of last six races)

Kyle Busch (+8 above playoff cutline)

  • Round of 16 finishes: 35th at Darlington, ninth at Richmond (avg. of 19.5 points)
  • 2021 concrete track finishes: 27th at Dover, 11th at Nashville Superspeedway (avg. of 24.5 points)
  • Bristol career: Eight wins, avg. finish of 12.8 in 31 starts (three wins, six top-five finishes in last seven races)

Aric Almirola (+3 above playoff cutline)

  • Round of 16 finishes: 16th at Darlington, 14th at Richmond (avg. of 25.5 points)
  • 2021 concrete track finishes: 37th at Dover, fourth at Nashville Superspeedway (avg. of 18.5 points)
  • Bristol career: No wins, avg. finish of 24.1 in 23 starts (finished fifth in 2020 playoff race)

Kurt Busch (holds playoff cutline tiebreaker)

  • Round of 16 finishes: Sixth at Darlington, 37th at Richmond (avg. of 22.5 points)
  • 2021 concrete track finishes: 13th at Dover, eighth at Nashville Superspeedway (avg. of 34 points)
  • Bristol career: Six wins, avg. finish of 14.0 in 40 starts (one win, five top-ten finishes in last seven races)

Alex Bowman (tied on playoff cutline)

  • Round of 16 finishes: 26th at Darlington, 12th at Richmond (avg. of 19 points)
  • 2021 concrete track finishes: Won at Dover, 14th at Nashville Superspeedway (avg. of 37 points)
  • Bristol career: No wins, avg. finish of 22.0 in 10 starts (finished 15th or worse in last four races)

Tyler Reddick (-5 below playoff cutline)

  • Round of 16 finishes: 18th at Darlington, 15th at Richmond (avg. of 22.5 points)
  • 2021 concrete track finishes: Eighth at Dover, 18th at Nashville Superspeedway (avg. of 24.5 points)
  • Bristol career: No wins, avg. finish of 20.0 in two starts (finished fourth as a non-playoff driver in 2020 playoff race)

William Byron (-18 below playoff cutline)

  • Round of 16 finishes: 34th at Darlington, 19th at Richmond (avg. of 10.5 points)
  • 2021 concrete track finishes: Fourth at Dover, third at Nashville Superspeedway (avg. of 43 points)
  • Bristol career: No wins, avg. finish of 20.7 in six starts (eighth in May 2020 is lone top-10 finish at track)

Michael McDowell (-38 below playoff cutline)

  • Round of 16 finishes: 37th at Darlington, 28th at Richmond (avg. of five points)
  • 2021 concrete track finishes: 25th at Dover, 16th at Nashville Superspeedway (avg. of 16.5 points)
  • Bristol career: No wins, avg. finish of 29.9 in 21 starts (finished 10th as non-playoff driver in 2020 playoff race; lone top 10 at track)