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These are the Drivers in the Danger Zone

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What’s Happening?

The 2024 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs are right around the corner. With only 10 races to go in the regular season, many big-name drivers find themselves on the outside looking in. In addition, drivers in the hot seat are running out of time to show they can perform. Household names are in danger of missing the playoffs, and young and established stars are feeling their seats get warmer. Let’s take a look at the drivers in the danger zone.

  • This list will focus on drivers who are in danger of missing the playoffs and drivers who can lose their seats at the end of the season.
  • There are a few big name drivers who are on the outside looking in the playoff picture. Some big name drivers as well could find themselves out of Cup altogether if they don’t pick up their performance.
  • This list will use stats for each driver on this list, including there best chance to win, average finish, etc.

Playoffs: Kyle Busch

It’s been a rough season for Kyle Busch, to say the least. Not only is his consecutive winning season streak in danger of being broken, but his chances of making the playoffs are rapidly dwindling. Busch is on pace for the worst season of his career, with only two top-fives and a 16.9 average finish to his name. While eight points isn’t a large sum to make up, it takes a few more winners for that gap to grow, and outside of a photo-finish in Atlanta, the 8-team has not been in a position to win many races this year.

(Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

The good news for Busch is that he has some favorable tracks coming up. Most notable was the return of the Brickyard 400, which Busch won back-to-back in 2015 and 2016 and dominated in 2017 before a late-race crash took him out. If he can rekindle that Indy magic he held at the famed speedway, the 8-team might find themselves back in victory lane.

Career: Harrison Burton

Despite being in his third season with the Wood Brothers, Harrison Burton’s Cup career has seemed only to go backward. Each season has worsened for the 23-year-old, who is on pace for his worst season in Cup. With rumors that Chase Briscoe could take over the 21 at season’s end, the pressure is on for Burton to pick up the performance. Remember, the 21 is essentially a fourth Penske car, and Burton must show that in the second half of the season.

(Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Playoffs: Michael McDowell

2024 is a lame-duck season for Michael McDowell, who announced he’ll leave Front Row Motorsports to join Spire Motorsports in 2025. That said, he still finds himself 93 points outside of the playoffs, nearing must-win territory. After making the playoffs last season, the 34-team hopes to make it back now that they’re a “Tier One” team with Ford.

(Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

The good news for McDowell is that there are still plenty of road courses and Daytona on the schedule. McDowell finished eighth at Atlanta earlier this year and came runner-up to Kyle Larson last week at Sonoma. The 39-year-old’s two Cup wins have come at those types of tracks, and with Chicago and Daytona on the road to the playoffs, don’t be surprised to see Front Row back in victory lane.

Career: Zane Smith

Zane Smith has had one of the worst seasons for a rookie in recent memory. The 2022 Truck Series champion currently sits 34th in points, last among full-time drivers, with zero top-10s and an average finish of almost 28th. With McDowell set to replace him in 2025 and rumors that Shane van Gisbergen could land a third Trackhouse seat, it could mean one-and-done for Smith in the Cup Series.

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The good news for Zane is that his performance seems to have taken a turn in the past two races. He’s finished in the top 20 in the last two races and only sits 16 points behind Burton for 33rd in points. While that may not seem like much, any signs of improvement are desperately needed for Smith, who could be fighting for his Cup Series career in his rookie season.

Playoffs: Bubba Wallace

This one might seem far-fetched, given that he currently holds a playoff spot, but given who’s chasing Bubba Wallace for that final playoff spot, the odds are stacked against him. The 23-team has not shown the speed that 45 has shown all year, and with big names like Busch and Joey Logano on the outside looking in, Wallace has his work cut out for him.

(Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

It’s been almost two years since Bubba’s last win. The good news for Bubba is that he was in this same position the previous year and came out with his first playoff berth. The 23 has been strong on intermediate tracks, and with Nashville, Michigan, and Darlington still left on the schedule, it presents a great opportunity for Wallace to break his winless streak and secure his second playoff appearance.

Career: Stewart-Haas Racing Drivers

This one is admittedly cheating a bit, but it’s true. With Stewart-Haas Racing set to close at the end of the year, all four drivers are essentially auditioning for future Cup Series opportunities. With teams looking to pick up charters for their own drivers, it can leave some of SHR’s current lineup without a seat for 2025.

(Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Chase Briscoe has been linked to the 21-car, but what if the Wood Brothers decide to keep Burton for another year? Noah Gragson has been rumored to go to RCR, but is the team in a position to buy a third charter? Josh Berry has been solid as a rookie but sits well outside the playoff cutline, and Ryan Preece has not figured it out in the Cup. There is a lot of pressure on all four drivers to perform because their Cup Series careers could be on the line.

Who do you think is in the danger zone? Is it for the playoffs or their career? Let us know on Discord or X what your take is, and don’t forget you can also follow us on InstagramFacebook, and even YouTube.

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