Written By Gabriel Tsui, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
The regular season finale in Daytona was no doubt an absolute fun race to watch, thus ending the regular season on an absolute high. With Austin Dillon clinching the final playoffs spot, it’s time to look into the drivers who advanced to the round of 16. Who will be advancing to the round of 12? Who will be dropping out of the race for the championship? Is an upset elimination a possibility? Using statistics and other factors, I will list every driver as either a: 100% making it, a most likely to make it, a 50/50, or a dark horse. Today I will finish the series with the bottom eight drivers in the rankings.
The first driver for this piece is Tyler Reddick. He defended like a lion in the final laps in Daytona, bringing home a 1-2 finish for Richard Childress Racing, and clinching a playoff spot for his teammate Austin Dillon in the process. Heading into the playoffs, he has two wins, both stage wins on his account, as he looks to expand it further. Looking at the 2018 Xfinity champion’s season, a race weekend is either extremely good or extremely poor for Reddick, rarely anything in between. Out of the 26 races so far in 2022, six are 12-24th place finishes, eleven are top 7 finishes, and nine are 28-39th place finishes. The question mark over Reddick is about carrying his success from Bristol and Darlington into the playoffs, and I believe he can do so. He is most likely to make it to the next round, but inconsistency must be answered. Going from a win in one race, to the back of the field in the next race is unacceptable, especially for a driver aiming to win a championship.
The next driver is Christopher Bell. Looking at the regular season records, he picked up a number of top ten finishes, most notably a five-race streak from Dover to Madison. A win in New Hampshire then secured a playoff spot for the 27-year old, along with two other stage wins. He finished the regular season championship in seventh place, with 11 playoff points to his name. Bell has been improving consistently, and would be looking to get into the round of 12 again, after a decent second season for Joe Gibbs Racing. He is stronger on the short to medium length tracks, compared to the superspeedways. He will most likely make it to the next round since I find zero flaws in his performance this season, as he has been one of the most consistent drivers, finishing close to the top drivers in most races.
The next driver on our list is none other than Kyle Busch, the man who once said: “It doesn’t matter how you get them, as long as you get them.” Most certainly, the win at Bristol was a fluke, although his overall performance through the season has been undeniably consistent. He completed only nine races outside the top 20, and a stunning thirteen races in the top 10. He secured a win in Bristol, two stage wins, and finished eighth in the regular season, with 10 playoff points to his name. Now in his 20th season, Busch will definitely try his best to make it to the next round at least, and if possible, win a championship. His skills and experience will serve him well in this stacked round of 16, and he could definitely try to produce good results in Kansas and Bristol. He is most likely to make it to the next round, barring any stroke of bad luck..
The fourth driver would be Chase Briscoe. The sophomore driver was definitely not a headline maker. Consistently finishing between 10 to 20th, with four rare exceptions in the top 10. One of those included a win in Phoenix, and a third in the Daytona 500. He gained one win and four stage wins in the regular season, and has 9 playoff points to his name. While his performance in Phoenix was one of pure dominance, leading 101 out of the 312 laps, it’s quite clear to the fans that he will not repeat that performance in the short term. His driving style is quite aggressive, and the dirt race at Bristol was a perfect example, when he sent it too hard in the last lap and cost Tyler Reddick a win. It would be sugar coating to say he even has a 50/50 chance to make it through, but saying he has no chance of making it is a huge overstatement. Therefore, I would categorize him as a dark horse who could potentially shock the whole NASCAR audience, although the chances of making it through are very slim.
Next up is the amigos, Daniel Suarez. Suarez was the driver everyone hoped for to get a win, and it finally came this season in Sonoma, when he became the first Mexican to win a NASCAR race. For the first time in Suarez’s career, he is heading into the playoffs. Suarez has improved a lot in the 2022 season, finishing in the top ten exactly 10 times. He has been consistently challenging for high finishes, and has no doubt been performing at the highest level. However, there are concerns about Lady Luck standing with the Trackhouse Racing Team, and this doesn’t seem to be the case. Team 99 was involved in an unlucky incident in the Daytona finale while fighting for the win. These unexpected accidents are the ones holding me back from ranking Suarez higher, and he only has seven playoff points. Therefore, I think Suarez has a 50/50 chance of making it, depending on his luck.
Next driver is Alex Bowman, the man, the troll, the legend. After winning the third race of the season in Las Vegas, the “All luck, no skill” T-Shirt troll in response to Kyle Busch’s comments was definitely one of the highlights of his season. Apart from that, there weren't really a lot of remarkable races and challenges coming from Bowman. Barely featuring within the top 5 and even stage wins, he only has six playoff points right now. The 29-year old would definitely be looking to improve from his lacklustre performance in 2021, yet it is doubtful whether he can really advance. He was having a couple of low-key races approaching the end of the regular season, a couple of finishes towards the rear of the field, which doesn’t bode very well for him going into the Round of 16. He will most likely fall out of contention, although the chances of him advancing can’t be ruled out.
Next up is Austin Cindric, the only rookie in the playoffs, and it is quite a surprise to see him up there. Having won the first race in the season, he had locked on to the playoff spot early on. While he was not always in contention for the top spot week in week out, he showed flashes of brilliance. Featuring in the top ten eight times, he is already performing at a decent level. However, going into the Round of 16, concerns lie over Cindric’s performance in either Darlington, Kansas or Bristol. Another stumbling block for Cindric is his inconsistent form. He could go from a half-decent performance to a terrible weekend, then get to a top 5 finish in the next race. His inexperience also sets a barrier between himself and the next round. He is most likely to be eliminated in this stacked playoffs, but he might miraculously win a race and advance to the next round. As the saying goes “Never say never.”
The final driver on our list is possibly the luckiest driver of the season: Austin Dillon. Squeezing through all of the crashes like he’s Lighting McQueen, it was one of the miracles of the season. He only has five playoff points from the win in Daytona, and is in the bottom in points standings within the playoff group. His performance has been quite underwhelming in comparison to 2021, and he has consistently been in the midfield to the rear of the field, and like it or not, the win in Daytona was definitely a fluke. Ten finishes between 20th and 35th place, only four top 5 finishes in this season, never close to contending for wins, which only come to show that he has the least chance of advancing to the next round. Vegas odds has him placed +8000 in terms of winning the championship, the worst odds among the 16 drivers. He has a huge chance of getting eliminated, but if the NASCAR gods bless him one more time, he might have the chance to advance.
Good luck to all of the drivers, may the racing gods be by your favourite driver’s side, and as the great Darrell Waltrip once said: “Boogity boogity boogity, let’s go racing boys!”