The NASCAR Cup Series playoff picture entering Bristol

A dramatic night of short track racing at Bristol Motor Speedway will end with four drivers eliminated from the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. See where everyone stands ahead of the final race in the Round of 16.

The NASCAR Cup Series playoff picture entering Bristol

1. Denny Hamlin - No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (LOCKED IN)

  • With his victory in the Southern 500, Hamlin's place in the Round of 12 is guaranteed. He nearly went back-to-back at Richmond too, finishing second to teammate Martin Truex Jr.

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Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry FedEx Ground

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry FedEx Ground

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

2. Martin Truex Jr. - No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (LOCKED IN)

  • Truex was already in a strong position entering Richmond, but a victory at the Virginia short track automatically locked him into the next round of the playoffs. Truex now has four victories this season, with Larson being the only driver with more.

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Race winner Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry

Race winner Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry

Photo by: Logan Whitton / NKP / Motorsport Images

3. Kyle Larson - No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (LOCKED IN)

  • The dominant driver on the year may not have a win during the playoffs (yet), but he has still been able to lock himself into the next round on points alone. 

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Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro HendrickCars.com

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro HendrickCars.com

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

4. Joey Logano - No. 22 Team Penske Ford (+40pts)

  • Logano moved a further 19 points away from the cut line with a fifth-place finish at Richmond, putting him in a very safe position ahead of Bristol. The former Cup series champion is also a two-time winner at the Bristol short track.
Joey Logano, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Shell Pennzoil

Joey Logano, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Shell Pennzoil

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

5. Ryan Blaney - No. 12 Team Penske Ford (+28pts)

  • Blaney's tenth-place finish at Richmond gave him a 28-point cushion above the cut line, putting him in a fairly safe position. Even still, we saw Kurt Busch's 26-point buffer completely evaporate after an incident at Richmond. And of course, Bristol is a track where anything can go wrong at any moment.
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Advance Auto Parts

Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Advance Auto Parts

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

6. Kevin Harvick - No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (+25pts)

  • The always consistent Kevin Harvick finished eighth at Richmond, collecting his 18th top-ten in 28 races this season. He is the highest driver in the championship standings without a win in 2021, and another quiet run at Bristol should be more than enough to lock him into the Round of 12.
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang Hunt Brothers Pizza, Joey Logano, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Shell Pennzoil

Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang Hunt Brothers Pizza, Joey Logano, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Shell Pennzoil

Photo by: Logan Whitton / NKP / Motorsport Images

7. Chase Elliott - No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (+19pts)

  • A 15-point gain at Richmond was crucial in getting the reigning series champion away from the drop zone, but he is not out of the woods yet. He did well to rebound from a pit road error, but a mistake like that at Bristol could cost him multiple laps and end his title hopes. He's never won at the famed short track, but Elliott does have the best average finish there among all active drivers. Like so many others on this list, he just needs to keep his nose clean and stay out of trouble Saturday night.
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Kelley Blue Book

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Kelley Blue Book

Photo by: John Harrelson / NKP / Motorsport Images

8. Christopher Bell - No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (+17pts)

  • Bell finds himself in a similar position to Elliott. He moved further away from the cut line after a top-five finish at Richmond, pushing himself out of the immediate danger zone. But what Bell lacks is experience. He has never been in this position before, and only has two previous Cup starts at Bristol. 
Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry DEWALT Salute First Responders

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry DEWALT Salute First Responders

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

9. Brad Keselowski - No. 2 Team Penske Ford (+13pts)

  • Keselowski has been very quiet in the opening round of the playoffs with finishes of seventh and 13th. The results are enough to keep his head above water, but the outgoing Penske driver will need to ensure another solid showing or else he could quickly fall into the elimination zone.
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Western Star

Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Western Star

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

10. Kyle Busch - No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (+8pts)

  • Busch was able to get himself back above the cut line at Richmond, but it was another frustrating race for the two-time Cup Series champion. He was leading late in the running when a speeding penalty during the final stop derailed his efforts.
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry M&M's

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry M&M's

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

11. Aric Almirola - No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (+3pts)

  • Almirola managed not to move at all at Richmond, still 11th in the standings and just three points above the cut line. His buffer is basically nonexistent and stage points will be crucial to ensure he avoids elimination at Bristol.
Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang Smithfield/Tuesday's Children

Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang Smithfield/Tuesday's Children

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

12. Kurt Busch - No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet (+0pts)

  • Kurt Busch was the biggest loser at Richmond. Running inside the top five in the opening stage, a tire failure sent him into the outside wall and his 26-point cushion evaporated in an instant. Now he comes to Bristol on the edge of elimination. The only upside would be that Bristol is a track that has long been dominated by the Busch brothers. Kyle leads the field with eight wins there, followed closely by elder brother Kurt with six.
Kurt Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet Camaro Monster Energy wrecks

Kurt Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet Camaro Monster Energy wrecks

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

13. Alex Bowman - No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (-0pts)

  • Bowman's predicament remains unchanged after Richmond. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has three wins this season, but a disastrous start to the playoffs has kept in a dangerous position entering Bristol. It is critical that he step it up, or his playoffs could very likely be over.

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Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Ally

Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Ally

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

14. Tyler Reddick - No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet (-5pts)

  • Reddick has done well to stay within striking distance of the cut line after two races, but he will need to do more if he wants to escape elimination at Bristol. The lone RCR driver in the postseason has finishes of 18th and 15th, which have only kept him in the discussion because of misfortune befalling his rivals. He will need to show some more speed this weekend, or he will likely be eliminated.
Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang Smithfield/Tuesday's Children, Tyler Reddick, Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet Camaro Childress Vineyards

Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang Smithfield/Tuesday's Children, Tyler Reddick, Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet Camaro Childress Vineyards

Photo by: Logan Whitton / NKP / Motorsport Images

15. William Byron - No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (-18pts)

  • A DNF at Darlington and a 19th-place finish at Richmond has put Byron is what is most likely to be a must-win situation at Bristol. Unfortunately, it's not one of his best tracks. Just one top-ten in six stars and an average finish of 20.7 is not a good sign for the Hendrick driver, who will need a fast car and a lot of luck on Saturday night.
William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Liberty University

William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Liberty University

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

16. Michael McDowell - No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford (-38pts)

  • McDowell's chances of advancement were always in doubt. The surprise Daytona 500 winner and underdog of the playoffs crashed out at Darlington and struggled at Richmond. He would have pull off yet another upset win to save him from certain elimination. 
Michael McDowell, Front Row Motorsports, Ford Mustang Love's Travel Stops and Corey LaJoie, Spire Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Shavelogic

Michael McDowell, Front Row Motorsports, Ford Mustang Love's Travel Stops and Corey LaJoie, Spire Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Shavelogic

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

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