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Gut Check Time at Bristol for Those Still Playoff Eligible

This is the first playoff elimination race for the Cup Series this fall.


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Kevin Harvick has been here before.

Back then, he was the defending Cup Series champion in 2015 and he entered the Round of 16 finale at Dover Motor Speedway in a must-win scenario and that’s exactly what virtually the same No. 4 team led by crew chief Rodney Childers did.

They won.

At this point, Harvick doesn’t feel any pressure and has nothing to lose as a former champion with 60 career Cup Series victories. Either he wins on Saturday night at the Bristol Night Race and lives to fight another day or he will show up next weekend in the pursuit of more wins because that is all that really matters to him at this point.

But make no mistake, he genuinely expects to be a contender on Saturday night.

"It's not even pressure," Harvick said. "We've been in this position before and came out better on the other side. I like our chances."

But Harvick isn’t the only guy feeling the pressure on Saturday night as there are six drivers separated by 15 points on each side of the elimination cutoff. Once the checkered flag falls on Saturday, the four lowest drivers in points without a win will be eliminated.

Game over for their championship hopes.


1. Christopher Bell (Locked in, +58)
2. William Byron +48
3. Denny Hamlin +47
4. Joey Logano +40
5. Ryan Blaney +36
6. Alex Bowman +30
7. Chase Elliott +28
8. Kyle Larson +27
9. Ross Chastain +26
10. Daniel Suarez +6
11. Tyler Reddick +2
12. Austin Cindric +2
13. Kyle Busch -2
14. Austin Dillon -3
15. Chase Briscoe -9
16. Kevin Harvick -35


Speaking of pressure, you have to imagine Ross Chastain is keenly aware of what could be coming his way on Saturday too. It’s well documented that there is a laundry list of Cup Series veterans looking to impart their brand of wisdom on the playoff rookie after a summer of drawing their ire and vows of revenge when it matters the most.

At 26 points above the cutline, Chastain could be eliminated if he fails to finish deep in the field and without scoring a single stage point.

He is also aware.

"I’m aware of everything going on around the No. 1 car at all times.. especially with these new rearview cameras," Chastain said. "I tell (spotter) Brandon McReynolds all the time; spotter union up there better put a petition to get these things out of here because they’re nice and you can see everything."

He will know Denny Hamlin is there, or Chase Elliott, or Martin Truex or literally anyone who has vowed that there is another chapter to be written.

"If there is any fallout, I’ll be the first to know," Chastain said. "They aren’t going to be able to tell me before it happens."

If 26 points above the cutline isn’t safe, that means 28 above the cutline isn’t safe for top-seeded Chase Elliott either, even after recovering from an early exit at Darlington to score an 11th place with some much-needed stage points.

But Elliott has said from the start, even before Darlington, that no one was safe … except for Christopher Bell, who locked in last week on points.

"As far as the cutline goes.. nobody is safe," Elliott said. "The only guy safe, I guess, is whoever has locked themselves through. The No. 20 (Christopher Bell) locked himself in last week, so outside of him, nobody is.

"There’s some very capable guys that have had bad weeks over the last couple of weeks that could win here this weekend and that changes everything, as we all know."

So, it’s just an interesting dynamic at Bristol, which can be an especially cutthroat race track, even without the playoffs as a subplot. Consider even the Chastain situation, which could involve an innocent bystander as well.

Literally no one is safe.

"I think it’s probably going to be the most chaotic race you’ve seen at Bristol in a long time," Chase Briscoe said. "The cars are going to be out of control. I think they are going to be extremely fast — faster than we’ve run there in a long time."

And when you drive fast, things happen fast.

"It’s just a rough grind of a track and race," Dillon said. "You don’t know the performance of the tire, either. There are a lot of things that can happen here in a very short period of time. First thing’s first and that’s qualify; qualify up front, try and get stage points and try to win the race, but don’t take yourself out of the race.

"A lot of things are going to happen. It’s very easy with this car to take yourself out of the race because you’re on edge very often. It’s very easy to get a little too much and put yourself in a bad situation. The moment you take yourself out of the fight, you’re probably out when it comes to points."