What’s at Stake in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs as the Round of 8 Approaches

What's at Stake in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs as the Round of 8 Approaches

Kyle Busch is ecstatic to be racing at Texas Motor Speedway in Round 3 of NASCAR’s four-round Championship Playoff Series, and he’ll probably admit it. Texas is his sort of place on practically any criteria, especially when the stakes are so high. Among the eight drivers currently competing for the Cup Series championship this year, the 2015 and 2019 NASCAR champion has the best record at TMS. Busch has four victories (more than any other Playoff driver), 14 top-5 finishes (also more than anyone), and 17 top-10 finishes in 30 career starts at the 1.5-mile circuit in Fort Worth… yep, more than anyone in the playoffs.

What’s at Stake in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs as the Round of 8 Approaches

Two of the eight title contenders progressed to Round 3 by winning a race in Round 2: Kyle Larson, a seven-time winner last weekend in Charlotte, and Denny Hamlin, a two-time winner two weeks ago in Las Vegas. Four-time champion Martin Truex Jr., two-time winners Busch, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Elliott, and one-time winners Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are the other six contenders based on points. Joe Gibbs Racing fields Toyotas for Hamlin, Busch, and Truex Jr. For Rick Hendrick, Elliott and Larson are driving Chevrolets, while Keselowski, Blaney, and Logano are driving Fords for Roger Penske. Busch, Truex Jr., Keselowski, and Logano are five-time champions, with Elliott as the defending champion. Jimmie Johnson was the last back-to-back champion 11 years ago (2009-2010). The 1.5-mile quad-oval in the Fort Worth/Denton suburbs appears to be a great location for Busch to break out of what must appear to be a rut. Since the pandemic changed everything early last season, he’s only won twice this year, totalling three times in 68 races. Busch, a driver who is fully engaged and hands-on, has suffered since NASCAR abolished race-weekend practise and qualifying.

Nobody is more excited for 2022 than Busch, who longs for the days when he could practise and qualify like he used to. However, he has a respectable 13 top-5 performances and 19 top-10 finishes to offset this year’s failure. During the Playoffs, on the other hand, he’s been incredibly unreliable. On Labor Day weekend, he finished 35th at Darlington, rebounded with a ninth at Richmond, then struggled to 21st the following weekend at Bristol. With a third in Las Vegas and a 27th at Talladega before a strong fourth at the Charlotte Roval last weekend, the up-and-down cycle continued. With Sunday’s 500-miler, he’ll be seeded fifth in the 10-race playoff series. Round 3 begins on October 24 at Kansas Speedway and concludes on October 31 at Martinsville Speedway. The four finalists will race for the Cup a week later at Phoenix Raceway, based on Round 3 results and points. (Unfortunately, as is typically the case, the majority of the 36 other drivers on the grid will look insignificant.) It’s not really a winner-take-all situation, because the highest finisher doesn’t have to win; he just needs to defeat the other three, regardless of where they finish.

Larson has a 35-point advantage over Hamlin in the standings. Truex Jr. is six points ahead of the four-driver cut line, while Blaney is one ahead of it. Busch is one point off the lead, Elliott is minus-2, Logano is 11 points back, and Keselowski is 16 points back. Busch has reason to believe that he can complete this three-race series and compete for his third Cup the first weekend in November. “We won both (Texas and Kansas) last year (Texas in ’20, Kansas this year), so that’s a positive omen,” he remarked. “The mile-and-a-half programmes have been tremendously successful. We need to stay in front, and maybe we’ll get to start in front, so that should be a fantastic situation for us. This weekend is something we’re looking forwards to.” Surprisingly, everyone on Team Penske is still chasing the championship in his series. Aside from Logano, Keselowski, and Blaney in the Cup, defending Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric is one of the eight drivers left in contention for a championship.

Cindric and A.J. Allmendinger are the only drivers with double-digit points leads above the cut line heading into Round 3, as the bottom four drivers in points will be eliminated in three races. Cindric is only six points behind Allmendinger, who has a 34-point lead. Third-placed Justin Allgaier sits five points above of the cut line, while fourth-placed Noah Gragson is one point ahead. Daniel Hemric (minus-1), Justin Haley (-2), Harrison Burton (-9), and Brandon Jones, who is 14 points below the line, are the other four players remaining in contention. The third round of the Xfinity playoffs is similar to the third round of the Cup Series. The tour moves on to Kansas on October 23 and Martinsville on October 30 after Texas this weekend. The Xfinity Series title will be crowned on November 6 in Phoenix, Arizona, from the four drivers that remain after the 33-race season.

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