Four drivers will see their championship hopes come to an end when the checkered flag flies in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Nine spots are still up for grabs to advance to the next round of the playoffs as Bristol hosts its first postseason race, moving from its traditional August weekend.
Regular-season champion Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski are locked in via their wins at Darlington and Richmond, respectively, and Denny Hamlin is secure on points.
Joey Logano (+51), Martin Truex Jr. (+38), Austin Dillon (+36), Chase Elliott (+28) and Alex Bowman (+27) are the drivers that enter Bristol with more than a 20-point cushion.
See Also: Bristol Schedule and Lineups
The battle at the bubble is a tight one as only 12 points separate positions 10th through 14th in the standings with Clint Bowyer currently holding the final transfer spot in 12th.
"It’s going be insane," said Bowyer, who has finished in the top 10 in his last five Bristol starts, including a runner-up in May. "It’s like they were just wanting to make the end of the regular season and these playoffs as nerve-wracking as possible. I mean, we’re talking, like, ulcer-level, nerve-wracking situations and they found it. The Roval, Bristol, Daytona – I mean, it can’t get any more nerve-wracking than that."
See Also: Bristol Driver Averages
Kyle Busch, who leads all drivers with eight Bristol wins, is 18 points ahead of William Byron, the first driver on the outside looking in. Busch has yet to visit Victory Lane this season in the Cup Series, but has opened the playoffs with two top 10s.
"I would like to get back to Victory Lane at Bristol, no doubt," Busch said. "We’ve had some decent runs there in the first race, and then the All-Star Race went even better for us. And we were close there at the end but we were just a little short on that last stage, being as short of a run as it was, it just didn’t give us enough time to give our car an opportunity to shine."
Along with Byron, Cole Custer (-8), Matt DiBenedetto (-25) and Ryan Blaney (-27) are the drivers below the cutline.
"It has been a rough two races and the Round of 16 is a round that you can’t really screw up and we have managed to have a couple of screw ups and find ourselves in this spot," said Blaney, who has recorded three top 10s and combined to lead 439 laps in the last five Bristol races. "Not surprising, just kind of bummed out. Our whole focus on this group is this weekend. We have one more race to try to get in here and it is a track that we have plenty of capability to do it at."
See Also: Cup Series Standings
DiBenedetto finished second last season in this race driving for Leavine Family Racing. He made the playoffs in his first year behind the wheel of the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing in another pressure packed race, three weeks ago at Daytona.
"Going into Bristol this weekend just kind of being in a hole, I still look at it as opportunity going to my personal favorite racetrack, a track where I know we can perform really well at," DiBenedetto said. "Yeah, it’s pressure for sure, but I still look at it as opportunity for us and there’s no other track I would choose other than Bristol to be in this situation and to go out there and perform at our very highest."
Joining Busch as on the list of playoff drivers that have conquered Bristol in a points-paying race include last weekend’s winner Keselowski, who won in May. Hamlin is the defending event winner and Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano are the other playoff drivers with at least one win at the half-mile track. Chase Elliott won the 140-lap, non-points All-Star Race in July.
Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are the two non-playoff drivers in the field on the Bristol win list.
PRN will have the radio coverage of Saturday night’s race with the television broadcast on NBCSN.