Now that the Kyle Busch situation appears to have been settled (sponsors to be named, however), the spotlight can return to the Cup playoffs, which reach a critical juncture Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The track’s annual night race marks the end of the first round of the playoffs, and four of the 16 playoff drivers will be booted from the group at race’s end. Former champions Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, along with Austin Dillon and Chase Briscoe, are below the cut line entering the race.
Christopher Bell leads the point standings and has locked up a spot in the Round of 12. He’s the only driver guaranteed in the second round.
The BMS schedule includes a Camping World Truck Series race Thursday night, Xfinity Series action Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, USA Network) and the Cup race Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, USA Network).
Toil and trouble
The Cup playoffs to date have not been a safe haven for championship contenders.
Races at Darlington and Kansas were filled with wrecks, pit-road issues and other problems.
Among the problems:
- Ross Chastain — Debris between wheel and hub causes numerous pit stops at Darlington.
- Austin Dillon — Penalized for equipment interference at Kansas.
- Kevin Harvick — Car catches fire at Darlington. Crashes into wall at Kansas.
- Kyle Larson — At Darlington, loses three laps in the pits.
- Tyler Reddick — Blown tire and crash at Kansas leads to 35th-place finish.
- Chase Elliott — Spun and hit the wall at Darlington, finished last.
Can Busch, Harvick rebound?
Kyle Busch is 13th and Kevin Harvick 16th — two champions below the cut line — entering Saturday night’s race.
Neither driver has been eliminated in the first round in past playoffs. Busch was eliminated in the second round in 2014 and 2020, and Harvick bowed out in the second round last year.
What are their chances at Bristol? In a word, great.
Busch has won eight times — far more than any other active driver — at BMS. He has finished fourth or better in six of the past eight races at the track.
Harvick has won three times at Bristol and has won four times in playoff elimination races, including at Bristol in 2020.
Hey, where are you guys?
With Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace scoring upset victories over the first two weeks of the Cup playoffs, blocking playoff teams from victory lanes at Darlington and Kansas, it’s worth noting that several other drivers are possible first-time winners this season with eight races remaining.
Six drivers who won races — two of them multiple races — in 2021 have big zeroes in their columns this year.
Martin Truex Jr., who barely missed making the playoffs, won four times last year but is winless this season. Ryan Blaney, in the playoffs on points, won three times last year. Others who reached victory lane last year but have been absent this season are AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and Michael McDowell.
Thirty-six drivers are entered in Saturday night’s Cup Series race, the third and final event in the first round of the playoffs.
Thirty-seven drivers are entered for 36 spots in the Camping World Truck Series race.
This week’s schedule and forecast
(All times Eastern)
Thursday, Sept. 15
Forecast: Sunny. High of 84.
- 4:30 – 5:05 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series practice (FS1)
- 5:05 – 6 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series qualifying (FS1)
- 9 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series race (200 laps, 106 miles; FS1)
Friday, Sept. 16
Forecast: Mainly sunny. High of 84.
- 2:35 – 3:10 p.m. — Xfinity Series practice
- 3:10 – 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (NBC Sports App)
- 4:35 – 5:20 p.m. — Cup Series practice (USA Network)
- 5:20 – 6:30 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (USA Network)
- 7:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (300 laps, 159 miles; USA Network, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Saturday, Sept. 17
Forecast: Sunny. High of 85.
- 7:30 p.m. — Cup Series race (500 laps, 266 miles; USA Network, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)