Written by Gabriel Tsui, Edited by Simran Kanthi
Unbelievable! This might be the word to describe the three weekends in the Round of 16. All three races have been won by non-playoff drivers, and this article will break down the unexpected eliminations and what is next for the drivers that advanced to the Round of 12.
Starting off with Kyle Busch, it seems like I absolutely jinxed it. In my previous article [NASCAR Playoffs Round of 16 Driver Analysis], I said, "He is most likely to make it to the next round, barring any stroke of bad luck." And it certainly looked like that for Busch early into the Bristol race. However, he had an engine failure on lap 270 and was out of the race and no longer in contention for the playoffs spot. For the first time since NASCAR introduced playoffs elimination, Rowdy Busch was eliminated in the RO16.
Same with the RCR (Richard Childress Racing) duo, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick; they were eliminated by bad luck. Both hit by the big one caused by Suarez, finished in 31st and 25th place respectively. Even though Reddick was third in Darlington, bad luck hit him hard in Kansas and Bristol. As for Dillon, he was never in the fight for top spots and elimination was inevitable in the end. Kevin Harvick and the #4 team failed to bring the heat into the playoffs, with two retirements in Darlington and Kansas. Even though he finished tenth in Bristol, it was not enough to escape the bubble and hence, an early elimination.
Now let's talk about Christopher Bell. Bell was the best driver in the past three races, finishing fifth, third, and fourth, respectively. Before the playoffs started, he was not in the conversation for championship contention. However, with his extraordinary performance, he has emerged as a serious contender. Now, heading to Texas, where he finished third last year, he might have a clean shot at the win. As long as he keeps up his consistency, advancing to the Round of 8 would be a piece of cake.
For the rest of the field, analysing who could potentially reach the Round of 8, let's start with the doubtful. First off, Austin Cindric, probably the luckiest driver on the grid. He benefited from Kyle Busch's engine, which has the reliability of a McDonald's ice cream machine. Though finishing 16th, 12th, and 20th in the three races, he left Bristol with a measly two-point advantage over Tyler Reddick, sending him to the Round of 12 as a rookie. His chances of reaching the next round are very slim, yet miracles and surprises are the theme of the script for NASCAR 2022, therefore, I wouldn't count him out yet.
Then there is Daniel Suarez. Suarez barely made the cut by causing a crash in Bristol that took out two of the eliminated, and he was very average in the entire Round of 16. Finishing 18th, 10th, and 19th in the three races isn't impressive, and with the amount of talent left, Suarez will inevitably be eliminated. The same goes for Chase Briscoe, who barely escaped the elimination bubble. Finishing 27th in Darlington was a terrible result, but he bounced back in Kansas and Bristol, finishing 13th and 14th, respectively, to advance to the next round. They are both tough drivers, and there might be a chance for them to create surprises, but it would be close to impossible.
The last driver that could possibly be eliminated is Alex Bowman. He performed quite well in Kansas by qualifying third, winning stage two, and then finishing in fourth place. However, I have doubts due to his inconsistency and the competition. Bowman's record in Talladega and Texas last year is a serious concern, and obviously, there are doubts on whether he could double down on his recent good run of form. Statistics don't lie, and they show that Bowman is a very inconsistent driver. He will be eliminated, and that will happen.
As for the rest of them, including Chase Elliot, Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, William Byron, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Blaney, were all miles above the cut line in Bristol, and I believe they are very likely to make it to the Round of 8. Let's wait and watch who would be the first driver to lock down a spot in the Round of 8 in Texas.