Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Joey Logano, and Kevin Harvick have been eliminated from the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Twelve drivers remain in the fight for the championship that will be won over the next seven races.
McDowell, the 2021 Daytona 500 winner, has run the best season of his career. The smaller Front Row Motorsports team has lived in the back of the mid-field for most of its existence, including in five other seasons employing McDowell, but both team and driver unlocked some serious and surprising performance this season. He ran around 15th in the points all season, ultimately making the playoffs with a win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. A strong run to sixth today was impressive, but not enough to overcome success by competitors in two previous races.
Stenhouse, the 2023 Daytona 500 winner, surprised competitors by putting on a consistent run throughout the year after locking his playoff position in early. His JTG Daugherty team did not win again this season and did not come close enough on points to stay alive in the championship fight, but it was undoubtedly a successful season for the program.
Logano, the Cup Series champion just las season, is the most surprising out in the playoffs so far. His shot at defending his title effectively ended in a crash after halfway in today's race, one that took him out of the race and left him a tantalizing 4 or 5 points behind the cutoff line for the rest of the night.
Harvick's elimination in the first round is no surprise after how badly his Stewart-Haas Racing team has struggled in 2023, but it is major news. The 2014 series champion has already announced plans to retire at the end of this season, so his elimination today marks the end of his shot at adding to that career total.
Martin Truex Jr. and Bubba Wallace were the final two drivers to make the next round, each staying about five points ahead of the crashed Logano throughout the race's final act. Truex briefly snapped loose and hit the wall while being lapped late in the race, bringing out the day's final caution but not ending his season. Wallace ran up near the front early to score eight stage points on lap 125, but he faded in later laps and finished 14th.
Denny Hamlin won the race over Kyle Larson, adding a handful of playoff points to an already healthy total. He is joined by Larson and his own driver, Tyler Reddick, in winning races during the Round of 16. William Byron, Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher, Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, Ryan Blaney, and Kyle Busch have also qualified for the next round, which runs over the next three race weekends at Texas, Talladega, and the Charlotte Motor Speedway infield road course. By virtue of playoff points scored throughout the season, Byron and Truex will lead that round heading into the next race after the customary points reset.
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