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Who’s at Risk of Elimination in NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs as Round of 12 Ends?
Two-time Cup champ Kyle Busch is among the star-studded group treading water as the Round of 12 comes to an end.
After a thrilling Talladega finish birthed a miracle for Ryan Blaney and a disqualification for Kevin Harvick, two-time Cup Series victor Kyle Busch joins fellow Cup champion Brad Keselowski among an elite group of wheelmen whose 2023 NASCAR Playoffs are in jeopardy of being cut short next week after the Charlotte Roval officially caps off the Round of 12.
While Keselowski currently sits in the eighth and final spot ahead of the South Point 400 in Las Vegas — the first race of the Round of 8 — the four drivers still in the mix sitting below the cutline are 23XI Racing drivers Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace, followed by Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain and the veteran Busch of Richard Childress Racing.
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Though he typically flies considerably more under the radar than his more vocal peers in the group, Reddick could be the dark horse to make it through to the next round, due to his prowess in road races. In addition to his win at the Indianapolis Brickyard last year, he won the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in March and the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway last month. With seven top-10 finishes in 11 road races, he’s a real threat on any road course he attacks.
“With how strong we’ve been at the road courses, we’ll take minus-two [to the cutline],” Reddick said, according to NBC Sports.
Wallace, Reddick's comrade-in-arms at the outfit co-owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan, however, has a little bit more of an uphill battle ahead of him. Wallace, who landed in 23rd place, is fully aware of how his dismal outing at Talladega transpired.
“Not the day that we needed,” Wallace said. “We put ourselves behind working on a plan. ... We got buried in track position, and you had to fight and claw your way back up to the top, and it took us three stages to get there, and then we gave it away on the last pit stop. ... Obviously, we had this one circled as a good weekend for us but just didn’t execute.”
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The problem for Wallace is that — unlike Reddick, who’s shown he’s a beast on road tracks — he's struggled. He might consider the upcoming Charlotte Roval “just another race track,” but out of the 25 road races he’s competed in, according to DriverAverages, he’s only notched two top-10 finishes.
After a wreck on the final lap of Stage 1 at Talladega trashed his car, relegating him to a 37th-place finish, Chastain remains optimistic, knowing he can only go up from there. He won at COTA in March of 2022 and has seven other top-10 finishes to complement it.
When asked how he expects Charlotte to go, Chastain responded, “left and right,” according to the Associated Press. “I'm living my dream, so whatever our team brings next week, we'll put our best foot forward. As long as I'm getting to drive these rocket ships that Trackhouse brings me, I'm living my dream, and we'll keep fighting.”
Busch’s day in Alabama didn’t fare that much better. His 25th-place finish has been part of Rowdy’s seasonal ebb and flow from solid performances to barely scratching mediocrity.
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“When I could make moves, get in good positions and put myself in good spots, I could get up towards the front,” Busch revealed. “My chess match is apparently horrible, or I get hung out every time it comes down to the end, and we just lose spots.”
That inconsistency basically sums up how Busch has competed on road courses. Sure, he has a pair of victories at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen as well as two top-five finishes in Charlotte, but that’s only one side of the tape. According to DriverAverages, he’s also suffered greatly at the Roval, finishing in 30th or below three times in his Cup career. Busch knows how crucial success there is if he’s going to continue his run into the playoffs.
“That’s our last shot,” noted Busch of the upcoming race at the Charlotte Roval, according to NBC Sports. “So, we’ll see what we get.”