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Huge NASCAR Names Make Early Playoff Exit after Round of 12

Former Cup champs Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski met their NASCAR Cup Series 2023 end along with Bubba Wallace and Ross Chastain.   

By Andrew Woodin
Split of Ross Chastain, Bubba Wallace, and Kyle Busch

We all know the road to glory is often paved in hardship, but when it comes to the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, even a few minor bumps that manifest along the way could be the difference makers between ultimate satisfaction and ultimate sorrow, something four of NASCAR’s most familiar faces found out the hard way over the weekend.

After the culmination of the Bank of America ROVAL 400 in Charlotte, the postseason’s Round of 12 is officially over and, with it, title hopes for four of NASCAR’s most elite: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace and Ross Chastain.

Busch is all too familiar with bumps in the road. After notching three wins in the regular season, what began as a hopeful first year with Richard Childress Racing quickly hit the brakes. Rowdy’s second round was one of calamity with a DNF in Texas, followed by a 25th-place finish in Talladega. While he ran a good race at the Roval, his failure to score enough stage points at the prior races effectively turned Charlotte into a win-or-go home event with the latter unfortunately coming to fruition after he finished third in the Tarheel state-based event.

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A fierce competitor but also a true sportsman, Busch put the blame squarely on his chest.

“The resilience of the team is by far greater than mine probably,” stated Busch, according to NASCAR. “You know, I put ourselves in a lot of bad spots and they’ve just come to work on Monday and fought and battled through it and given us another good car to go to the next week with. So, a lot of it rides on me just getting sloppy, not doing a very good job. And I’m not making excuses, but trying to figure this car out, you know? I just lose the balance of it. Did again today. Was able to get a third out of it, but, you know, probably would have been worse off than that if it wasn’t for the track position.”

Kyle Busch

Busch ultimately finished the Round of 12 at the bottom of the barrel in 12th place and 30 points shy of advancing to the Round of 8, but he wasn’t the only veteran and former Cup Series champion to miss his mark.

Keselowski, who won the title in 2023, throttled into Charlotte two points above the elimination line, but that wasn’t enough to keep Tyler Reddick at bay, especially after the 23XI Racing driver won the pole and Keselowski was only able to manage a 19th-place start.

“You always want to be better,” opined the driver and co-owner of RFK Racing. “All in all, big progress to where we’ve been. Not the day we wanted to have and certainly stinks to not advance but lotta progress than where we were last year and looking forward to making another step going into next year so we can keep pushing. All in all, a reasonable season.”

For Chastain, who cruised to the Championship 4 just last year in his debut season with Trackhouse Racing, a solid, second-place finish in Texas started his round, but he couldn’t keep the momentum rolling. The Watermelon Man stumbled into a DNF at Talladega, followed by a 10th-place finish in Charlotte to hammer the final nails in his postseason coffin.

“We knew coming in that it was going to be tough,” explained Chastain, according to NASCAR. “We put together a heck of a day for us on road courses this year in this No. 1 Worldwide Express Chevy. Lately, we’ve just been lacking speed, and I can’t get over the curbs.”

For all of his struggles on road courses, Wallace cobbled together a blazing-fast practice session on Saturday before landing fourth in the qualifier. He excelled at Texas, earning a third-place finish, but a dismal day in Alabama sputtered him into a 23rd place finish, and he didn’t fare much better in Charlotte with a 16th-place finish.

Ross Chastain seen during a racde

“It was a great effort from everybody,” noted Wallace. “We did not take ourselves out of it. We did everything that we could. It’s childish — I’m saying that now — it’s childish to be pissed off about that, right? So just accepting that and moving on.”

“We weren’t supposed to be here, according to a lot of people, but we proved them wrong and then proved a lot of people in the garage wrong that you can’t really count on the 23 at a road course race,” elaborated Wallace, according to AP News. “Got to continue to work. I don’t think we’re a winning car yet, but we’re light-years from where we were a few races ago.”

After AJ Allmendinger’s thrilling victory in Charlotte, the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs motors into Las Vegas this weekend to officially kick off the Round of 8 with the South Point 400.