5 Points, 2 Must Win Drivers to Dictate Final Four

Denny Hamlin and William Byron will points race as others aim to win.


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Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe face must-win odds next weekend at Martinsville Speedway while Joey Logano is racing entirely for fun.

Beyond that, everything else will be extremely fluid for the penultimate race of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season. Was a trip to the final four going to turn out any way other than this?

Joey Logano Adv.
Ross Chastain +19
Chase Elliott +11
William Byron +5
Denny Hamlin -5
Ryan Blaney -18
Christopher Bell -33
Chase Briscoe -44

Well, how did we get here?

What happened to Christopher Bell last weekend was well documented, and a middling run and 11th place finish on Sunday at Las Vegas did nothing to improve his chances despite starting from the outside front row.

"I’m disappointed with our performance today, but at least that is in our hands," Bell said. "Last week, I was emotional about it because it was out of our hands, and we were performing well. Today, it was in our hands, and we just didn’t step up to the bat and do what we needed to do. That was disappointing, but we will move to Martinsville.

"We ran well in the spring. I definitely feel better about winning there than I did at the Charlotte road course."

You know, the Charlotte ROVAL that he absolutely had to win in order to advance and did just that in walk-off fashion earlier in the month.

Chase Briscoe entered this weekend nine points below the cutline and suffered the worst possible outcome. The Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 raced around 20th throughout the first half, fighting a clearly disagreeable Ford Mustang, before hitting the wall on Lap 160.

The damage to their upper control arm was terminal and now Briscoe has to win at the Virginia half-mile.

"It is really frustrating to have it be something of my own doing," Briscoe said. "I am better than to be crashing by myself. It is really unfortunate. It makes our job easier next week I guess. We don't have to worry about points. We have to go to Martinsville and win."

The race, not to mention the playoff dynamic, shifted on lap 212 when Ryan Blaney spun across the access road on pit exit during green flag pit stops. Blaney downshifted and it sent the car around.

"Downshifted like a dumbass," Blaney said after the race.

He entered the race 11 points below the cutline to 18.

That’s not so bad until considering that he was running inside the top-five for much of the race, and finishing 17th cost him 14 points, the difference between each side of the cutline.

"We were in a decent spot running third on the green flag stop and then I just made a mistake," Blaney said. "That is two weeks in a row I made a mistake and it cost us a good run. I couldn’t get back up through the field after that. It was an unfortunate end of the day again, due to a driver mistake again."

The final laps saw Denny Hamlin and William Byron trade the final provisional transfer spot. Hamlin spent much of the race outside the top-10 but made a third stage charge inside the top-five. Restarts were a struggle for Hamlin, and at one point slapped the wall, before fading back to a seventh-place position.

Hamlin said he simply needed to be better on short runs.

Now, he turns his attention to his best statistical track, Martinsville, but one that wasn’t very kind to him in April -- the first using this new car with its high downforce and shifting requirements.

"My thoughts are we have to get a little better on the short run," Hamlin said. "It’s going to be super important how important track position is at Martinsville. We have to qualify well. Yeah, just go and try to be better."

Conversely, Byron won the race in the spring and despite an uneven race on Sunday at Homestead, has to feel pretty confident in advance of Martinsville.

Five points separate Byron and Hamlin.

"We just need a really good day," Byron said. "I feel decent about it. We had a test there and felt like we were decent need to work on a couple of little things to get better because everyone else is going to have gotten better too."

And while most of the attention will be on that Byron-Hamlin points battle, remember that a Blaney, Briscoe or Bell victory would eliminate both.

That is what's at stake at Martinsville.