Written By Gabriel Tsui, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
As has been the case through the season, Martinsville gave the fans another very exciting race finish. Whether it was another clutch moment for Christopher Bell, or an insane Hail Mary for Ross Chastain, this race finish had all the exciting factors. However, on the other hand, it was disappointing for the drivers that got eliminated. So, before we advance towards the Championship Four, let’s review the performances of the drivers eliminated in the Round of Eight, and what next for them.
First up, Chase Briscoe. What a pleasant surprise for the Stewart-Haas Racing team. Entering the playoffs, many had expected him to drop out of contention in the first round itself. Yet surprisingly, he shocked everyone and made it to Martinsville, and had a chance to perform a walkoff win. He was in contention for almost every race, and it was just unlucky for him to lose out to a driver in a better car. He is going into free agency for 2023, so look out if he gets a chance in a better team. What a run, and people don’t recognise that enough. Bravo, Chase Briscoe!
Denny Hamlin got knocked out, too, and it is the same story yet again. It is quite disappointing for a driver like Hamlin, having such strong driving skills, but is yet to win a championship. Certainly, poor luck did play a part, yet it’s his driving style and the lack of X factor that still holds him inches away from the cup. He will be 42 soon, and time is short for him. He is always just short of winning a championship, and will have to step it up another notch. A lot of top tier talents in the Xfinity and Cup Series are eyeing a seat for 2024, and the #11 team has one of the best crews on the field. If the 11 isn’t winning next year, Brandon Jones and Sam Mayer, two of the top talents in Xfinity, will likely be in contention for the hot seat in 2024.
Ryan Blaney was the only driver to advance without winning a race, and it has certainly been a journey for him. After an extremely eventful Daytona race that sent him to the post-season, he advanced through from the Round of 16 with solid performances, and a crazy Talladega finish, when he could have easily gotten his first win of the season. However, that crazy journey has come to an end, as he couldn’t get the overtakes for the win, and finished third. Blaney was one of the most consistent performers on the field throughout the entire season, and I think he still has more to prove. His current contract runs till 2024, so he has plenty of time to improve and work towards a championship.
Last but not least, William Byron. The 24-year old recorded top-20 finishes every race in the post-season, and just wasn’t close enough to secure a golden ticket. His performance has generally been consistent, but not consistently high enough to be a championship contender. 13th, 12th, and a seventh place finish will not get you a golden ticket to the Championship 4 ,and he definitely has to do more to prove his worthiness of the seat. He has shown improvement already by making the Round of Eight, and has two more years on his current deal, which gives him enough time to keep working on his racecraft to improve further towards next year.
This Round of Eight was certainly somewhat boring, apart from the race finishes, of course. I am looking forward to the Championship Four in Phoenix, and may the best team win.