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The Drivers In Danger of Being Eliminated From the First Round of the NASCAR Playoffs

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The 16-driver Playoff field is now set, and the first round will decide which four drivers will be the first to be eliminated. The first round features the venues of Darlington, Kansas, and Bristol. Which drivers are the four who could be eliminated following these first four races?

Michael McDowell

Michael McDowell has been one of the great stories of the regular season, but, unfortunately for him, this first round does not fit him or his team well. McDowell and Front Row Motorsports both thrive specifically at superspeedways and road courses. They tend to struggle at the intermediate race tracks, specifically the high-horsepower ones.

On intermediates this year, McDowell has only one top-10 finish, which came at Gateway. He finished 26th in the spring race at Kansas and 33rd in the spring race at Darlington. If the Round of 12 schedule was used in the Round of 16, McDowell could sneak through, but, the first round does not have great tracks for McDowell and his team.

Bristol is a track that he has had some success at, however, with a solid 11th-place run there last September. If he can tread water through the first two races, then he can maybe sneak his way in on points at Bristol.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse has had the benefit of a stress-free regular season after winning the Daytona 500 back in February. Since then, he has had the best season of his career, but, is it enough to get him into the Round of 12? The intermediate tracks have not been bad for Stenhouse, but he only recorded one top-10 in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

Bristol is the third race of the round, and he has been awful there in recent years. Since August of 2018, Stenhouse has finished outside of the top 30 in five out of eight races with only one top-10 finish. One bad finish like that with no win would easily be enough to do him in if he only runs okay at the first two tracks.

The key for Stenhouse will be to put an entire race together on the intermediate tracks. He also can look to his past at Bristol for some confidence as he recorded six top-10s and four top-5s in his first 11 starts at the track. It will be challenging, but it’s far from an impossible task.

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick is in his swan song season, but he has failed to win a race with only one stage win. The issue here is the competition that Harvick is going up against. Is he going to be able to overcome the drivers like Joey Logano and Tyler Reddick?

Given the struggles of Stewart-Haas Racing so far this year, that is a big ask. Harvick has been a solid driver this season, overall. However, the competition is very tough in NASCAR, and he just happens to be the guy who is stuck behind others.

With that in mind, all it takes is just one major slip-up in front of him to make a run. If someone like Ryan Joey Logano has a bad race, then Harvick has the pedigree to show he will pounce. He can do it, but he has to have the right people struggling as well to make sure he can make it.

Ryan Blaney

This may come as a surprise to some, however, take a moment to consider Bubba Wallace. Wallace had top-5 finishes at both Kansas and Darlington this spring, and he won at Kansas last fall. If Wallace runs the way he is capable of at these two tracks, someone currently in the top 12 is going to be left out.

In the last 11 races this season, Blaney has three top-10 finishes, but they were all ninth place. Is that going to be good enough? Also, he has five finishes of 30th or worse in that stretch.

If that stretch continues, Blaney will be in trouble, especially with how tight the Playoff field is. Harvick is far from a sure-fire cut in round one as well, and, while Ross Chastain has struggled recently as well, he always runs well at intermediates. Blaney did get his only win of the year at an intermediate track, but, can he recreate that?

Honorable Mentions: Bubba Wallace, Tyler Reddick, Joey Logano, and Ross Chastain

If anything has been learned about the Playoffs over the last few seasons, it’s that anything can happen. The Playoff field is so tight that it takes only one slip-up for almost any driver to fall into significant trouble. Will these four drivers be the ones eliminated post-Bristol?

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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