Oh Was There Ever Playoff Drama at Bristol

Harvick, Busch and both RCR drivers were eliminated at the checkered flag.

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And then there were 12.

Of the dozen who advanced to the next round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, two of the biggest modern stars in Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were not amongst them. Both Richard Childress Racing drivers completed the eliminations.

While each of the four could point to the misfortune that befell them during the Bristol Night Race, their elimination was actually the result of using two mulligans over the course of a three race round, as best described by Tyler Reddick.

"It almost worked out, but you can't have two bad races and expect to advance," Reddick said.

After finishing third in the playoff opening Southern 500 and putting himself in a great position to advance, Reddick finished next to last after at Kansas due to crashing with a flat right rear tire from the lead.

He and teammate Austin Dillon were involved in the same crash triggered by fellow playoff driver Daniel Suarez on Saturday night. The damage immediately eliminated Dillon and forced Reddick to finish 31 laps off the pace.

The Bristol Night Race delivered all the playoff drama this format encourages, starting with Harvick who entered the race facing a must-win scenario due to misfortune in both races. In the end, Harvick suffered a clean sweep of misfortune in all three races in the opening round.

The rocker panel of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 caught fire at Darlington and he clipped the wall the next week at Kansas. On Saturday night, Harvick positioned himself to win before what could have been the final restart but suffered a loose wheel on pit road.

"It just kind of goes with the whole year," Harvick said. "Nothing has gone right, really. The wheels literally fell off tonight."

Busch came in two points below the cutline and was racing inside the top-five and in contention for the win when his engine expired for the second time in three weeks.

"Absolutely devastated," Busch said. "Unfortunate circumstances unfortunately. Another engine failure this week. Obviously we were in a hole and this put us in a deeper one. I just can't stress enough how much I feel for my guys, the ones out there pouring their soul into a championship effort and it's not fair to them."

Busch got a brief second hope when on the ensuing restart, playoff driver Daniel Suarez spun in the middle of the pack and collected fellow contenders Alex Bowman, Reddick and Dillon. The crash completely eliminated Bowman and Dillon from the race. Bowman had already clinched a spot in the Round of 12 but Dillon entered this race three points below the cutline and had no margin for error.

"We got left-front suspension damage and if we don’t get that, we’re out there running and probably in a good points position to make it into the next round of the NASCAR Playoffs," Dillon said. "It's unfortunate, but we put ourselves in a little bit of a bind, points-wise, in the first two races. We were doing our job today, though. We had a great race car and got stage points. It’s just unfortunate we were caught up in it."

That crash only began because Suarez had battled a car that was so ill-handling throughout the weekend that it was literally bouncing around the track.

"It was very bad, probably one of the worst cars I’ve had this year," Suarez said. "I was trying to get more than the car could take."

He said it was doing it in practice too.

"We changed everything we could in the race car and it affected everything but the bouncing," Suarez said. "If you’re bouncing in the entry of the corner, it makes the rest of the corner a total waste because it affects the rest of the corner."

It finally bit Suarez and forced him into a spin that collected Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and the playoff drivers.

But what made this turn of events so interesting for Busch is that it forced Reddick and Dillon to fall below him, and temporarily kept him above Austin Cindric, who himself lost five laps due to a flat tire. But Cindric caught several lucky cautions, gained some laps and positions back and ultimately prevailed for the final spot by two points.

Two positions on the track.

"For a while I was just trying as hard as I can and as they fell off like flies just trying not to force any issues, try not to force any more right-front tire failures," Cindric said. "From there, I think I was tied with the 18 for 100 laps, but just one hell of a night."

Cindric wasn't even told of the points situation until Team Penske realized that he would have a chance to overtake Busch.

"I would say I got told at the beginning of stage three how close it was or how close it wasn’t," Cindric said. "I was probably about 16 out at the beginning of stage three and then we were five out, four out, tied with the 18 and that wave around really helped me be able to conserve my car and get a lap ahead of the 77 and the 43, so just a perfect storm in some ways, but Bristol showed us a little mercy tonight."

And lost in all the shuffle was that Chase Briscoe, who himself entered this race nine points below the cutline, managed to advance in the most remarkable of ways.

"I didn't have power steering for pretty much the whole race," Briscoe said.

He advanced by muscling his car around Bristol Motor Speedway without power steering on a night where everyone else’s issues were ultimately terminal.

"I didn’t have it the whole race," Briscoe said. "My arms are smoked. That was not the most fun. It was ripping the wheel out of my hands every time I ran the bottom and up at the top it was a little bit easier, so I kind of had to run the top no matter what just to try to last, but luckily there wasn’t a ton of long, long runs. There was a couple there towards the end where I was struggling. Luckily, we were already kind of locked in. I didn’t have to race super hard, but not the most fun place to not have power-steering for sure."

A lesson was learned at Bristol by Briscoe too.

"We had some luck with the 18 blowing up and a couple guys getting wrecked and there at the end it was unfortunate, we kind of just rode around making sure we didn’t eliminate ourselves, so I’m super proud to be able to move onto the Round of 12," Briscoe said. "That’s a really big accomplishment. We’ve just got to do what we did today, not eliminate ourselves.

"That’s going to be the key to this next round, especially with how many wild card races there are, so if we can go there and do that, guys are going to keep eliminating themselves. We just have to limit our mistakes and if we do that, we know we’ve got to have a little more speed, but if we can just limit our mistakes it gives us a chance to move on in the next round as well."

Full circle, the field is down to a dozen strong for another three-race round that this time consists of Texas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Also keep in mind that the points have been reset to the original playoff seedings plus any playoff points accrued during the Round of 16.

1. Chase Elliott +31
2. Joey Logano +16
3. Ross Chastain +11
4. Kyle Larson +10
5. William Byron +6
6. Denny Hamlin +4
7. Christopher Bell +4
8. Ryan Blaney +4
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9. Chase Briscoe -4
10. Alex Bowman -6
11. Daniel Suarez -6
12. Austin Cindric -7