It’s Bristol, baby!
And it’s elimination time for four drivers heading into the half-mile “Last Great Colosseum” near the state border between Virginia and Tennessee.
A quartet of playoff competitors will be sent home once the checkered flag flies late Saturday (Sept. 18) night, with 500 laps standing between the 16 playoff drivers and either a berth in the Round of 12 or heartbreak. A total of nine spots in the next set of races are up for grabs: Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. scored wins at Darlington and Richmond, respectively, to secure their berths, while Kyle Larson has already advanced on points.
Truex rolls off on pole by virtue of last week’s win with Hamlin alongside. Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Larson fill out the top five, while Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski complete the top 10.
All cars passed inspection on the first or second time through.
All playoff cars through on first or second time here at Bristol. Left to go through on second time are 3 21 14 41 78 00 53. Will try to update again once all through later today.
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) September 18, 2021
Logano and Blaney round out the top five on points while the other 11 drivers follow, with Alex Bowman, Tyler Reddick, William Byron and Michael McDowell the four odd men out, at least prior to the race. Less than 50 points separate 11 drivers spanning from fifth-place Blaney through 15th-place Byron. McDowell is much further back, a crash at Darlington and three penalties at Richmond all but dooming the No. 34’s chances at a second-round berth.
Also near the cutline, but currently on the right side of it, is Aric Almirola. He finished fifth in the fall race at Bristol last year, but had a horrendous four-race stretch prior to that where he didn’t come home better than 29th at the track. Kurt Busch, meanwhile, has six wins at the track, the most recent of which was in 2018’s fall feature.
Saturday also marks the first visit to Bristol’s asphalt surface for the Cup Series after the dirt race there in the spring. The last time Cup cars took to the pavement, Harvick led nearly half the 500 laps en route to a win, something he still has yet to get one of this year.
On Friday (Sept. 17) night, AJ Allmendinger secured the win and Xfinity Series regular season championship in a chaotic, thrilling last-lap battle with Austin Cindric, the two wrecking under the checkered and spinning back into traffic. Allmendinger won by .082 seconds and claimed his fourth victory of 2021.
Thursday (Sept. 16) featured Chandler Smith grabbing his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win and locking himself into the division’s second playoff round, while Todd Gilliland and Austin Hill were eliminated.
The 2021 edition of the Bass Pro Shops Night race will take the green flag shortly after 7 p.m. tonight, with coverage on NBC Sports.
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