The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs have eliminated Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Joey Logano, and Michael McDowell. The title battle, which will be decided over the course of the following seven races, now has twelve drivers.
The 2021 Daytona 500 champion McDowell has had his strongest season to date. For the majority of its existence, including the five seasons in which it ran McDowell, the tiny Front Row Motorsports team has resided in the rear of the mid-field. However, this season, both the team and the driver unlocked some substantial and unexpected performance. He finished the regular season in the top 15 in the points standings and advanced to the playoffs with a victory at the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Although an amazing run to sixth place today was made, it wasn’t enough to defeat the winners of the previous two races.
After securing his playoff place early on, Stenhouse, the 2023 Daytona 500 victor, surprised rivals by putting on a steady performance throughout the year. It was unquestionably a great season for the program even though his JTG Daugherty team failed to win again this year and fell short on points to remain in the title game.
The most unexpected exit in the playoffs thus far has been Logano, the Cup Series champion from last season. He crashed out of today’s race at halfway, thereby losing his chance to successfully defend his title. He was left 4 or 5 points behind the cutoff line for the remainder of the night.
Given how miserably his Stewart-Haas Racing squad has performed in 2023, Harvick’s elimination in the first round comes as little surprise. Nonetheless, it is significant news. The 2014 series winner has already stated that he will retire at the conclusion of this year, so his elimination today effectively ends his chances of increasing that career total.
The last two competitors to advance were Martin Truex Jr. and Bubba Wallace, who each maintained a lead of roughly five points over the wrecked Logano for the whole of the race. Late in the race, while being lapped, Truex temporarily became dislodged and collided with the wall, bringing out the final caution of the day but continuing his season. Wallace started the race at the front and scored eight stage points on lap 125, but he slowed down in the closing laps and came in 14th.
With the victory over Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin increased his already impressive tally of playoff points. In the Round of 16, he is joined in winning races by Larson and his own driver, Tyler Reddick. In addition to Kyle Busch, William Byron, Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher, Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, and Ryan Blaney are all in the running for the next round, which will take place over the course of the following three race weekends at Texas, Talladega, and the infield road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Byron and Truex will lead that round going into the next race after the customary points reset due to playoff points accrued throughout the season.