With the NASCAR playoffs in full swing it is time to look back at the round of 16 and what is to come for the rest of these exciting playoffs. With 16 different drivers managing to win playoff-opportunity regular season races, it has been unpredictable all around. With such a dramatic round of 16 so far, the rest of the playoffs will hopefully be just as exciting.
The first of the round of 16 was on Sunday, Sept. 4 for the CookOut Southern 500 at Darlington Speedway. This race started the playoffs with a bang when non-playoff qualifier Erik Jones shocked everyone by winning. He came all the way from 15 to claim first, beating out Denny Hamlin for the top spot and his third career win.
During the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway Bubba Wallace, another non-playoff driver, won his second career NASCAR Cup Series victory and became the first-ever African-American driver to win multiple cup races. He had no issue at all winning the race as he led for 58 laps including the final 43, comfortably beating out Hamlin for first.
From Kansas to Tennessee the round moved to the Bass Pro 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway where Chris Buescher, the third non-playoff driver, won a round of 16 race which is unprecedented. This win was also his first of the season and the 19th race in which a different driver had won this season. Even with Chase Elliott chasing him for the last 50 laps, Buescher was able to hang on just barely as he crossed the finish line 0.458 seconds ahead of Elliott.
In the Auto Trader 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Tyler Reddick won his third race. Just like the three winners before him Reddick is no longer in the playoffs as he bowed out before the Texas race, but he was still able to pick up the win. Elliott entered the race as the favorite but crashed and ended up placing at 32nd. However, this past Sunday on the track became a redemption opportunity for Elliott.
The Cup Series made its way to the most dangerous track in NASCAR this past Sunday, Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, AL. Hitting the halfway point of the round of 12 a lot of drivers looked to secure their spot in the next round with a win. While Ross Chastain had won the race at the same track earlier this year weather conditions and driver attitudes have shifted monumentally since that day. Thanks in part to some spectacular driving following a late-race caution flag, Elliott drag-raced and beat out stage one winner Ryan Blaney to the finish down the front stretch securing his place in the round of 8. Blaney has still yet to win a race this season besides winning the All-Star Race at Texas this past May.
The next race will take place on Sunday, Oct. 9 at the Bank of America Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the Coca-Cola 600. Kyle Larson enters the race as the 9-2 favorite as he won the Coca-Cola 600 last season, which would help him win the entire NASCAR Cup Series championship. Along with Larson, Elliott and Blaney appear to be other favorites. Still, with how many unpredictable races there have been so far, anything can happen and nothing is guaranteed. Following the race, the top 12 series finishes and the competition moves on to the top eight.
Elliott is one of the favorites to win it all thanks in part to having the highest average finishing position of the remaining drivers and while still having no recent wins. Other racers to watch out for are Joey Logano who is second in points and Hamlin who is always a threat in the Fall. No matter how these playoffs play out, it should be a fantastic finish to a season that has featured the most diverse field of winners NASCAR has ever seen.