10 To Go: Races that shaped the NASCAR Cup Series playoff field
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoff field is set and ten races remain this season. For as many races remain, there are the same amount of races that shaped the playoff field – not including the fresh-in-mind Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona and its wide range of possibilities.
Here are ten races that shaped the NASCAR Cup Series playoff field:
Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway
On a day where Tyler Reddick and Erik Jones command the top two spots and led 105 of the first 152 laps, a Lap 153 caution for Reddick’s flat tire and wreck with William Byron changed everything:
Jones took the lead but pitted and was mired back in the pack. Then, a multi-car wreck broke out that collected him.
Jones recovered but never had the same race-winning speed and settled for third, while Kyle Larson held off Austin Dillon and Daniel Suarez for the win.
Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
After Jones’ nearly ended the Auto Club race in victory lane, his Las Vegas race ended in a wreck and a caution with two laps to go.
Before the caution, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. fiercely battled side-by-side for the win, with no one appearing to have a distinct advantage.
After the caution, Alex Bowman passed teammate Kyle Larson and earned a playoff-clinching win after a side-by-side battle in overtime. Truex settled for eighth.
Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway
Kyle Busch had a quiet third-place finish coming after a pair of fifth-place stage finishes, until Chase Briscoe’s Hail Mary move on Reddick in the final corner on the final lap changed everything:
Briscoe spun Reddick, while Kyle Busch claimed a playoff-clinching win. Without the win, Busch would’ve missed the playoffs and teammate Martin Truex Jr. would’ve instead.
Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway
Joe Gibbs Racing had another fateful Sunday two weeks before Bristol, as Ryan Blaney led the most laps – 128 – but faded to the back half of the top-10. Meanwhile, Martin Truex Jr. rose up to lead 80 laps and challenged William Byron late. However, none of them won as Denny Hamlin’s team pulled an alternate tire strategy call and leap-frogged Truex and Byron to get the win.
A win by Truex would’ve put him in the playoffs and shut out Blaney.
GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
In turns 3 and 4, Erik Jones had a big lead on Kyle Larson. Entering the tri-oval, Ross Chastain pushed Larson and baited him to the outside lane. Jones blocked Larson’s run as Chastain moved through with a head of steam and earned his second win of the season.
This race padded Chastain’s place in the playoffs and was the last time Jones was in serious contention for a win in the regular season.
Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway
Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott dominated early as they divided the first 52 laps evenly by leading 26 laps each. Larson won Stage One but he and Elliott fell out of contention in Stage Two as Elliott had a pit penalty that put him in the rear and Larson had a loose wheel that required an extra pit stop.
The chain of events gave the lead to Chris Buescher but Daniel Suarez quickly grabbed the lead. Suarez led all but three of the final 50 laps and finally earned a playoff-clinching win.
Without the Hendrick Motorsports drivers’ issues, one of them would’ve won and shut Suarez out of the playoffs.
Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway
Martin Truex Jr. won both stages and dogged Chase Elliott, in 4th, for much of the second-to-last run – until a caution fell with eight laps to go. Truex pitted, along with his Toyota teammates, which put him in 22nd. After getting caught up in a mess with Cole Custer and Brad Keselowski, Truex only climbed to 15th at the finish.
In a scenario where Truex stayed out and challenged Elliott, Truex could’ve earned a playoff-clinching win.
Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Martin Truex Jr. led 172 laps when a caution came out on Lap 206 and changed his whole race. Kurt Busch and others stayed out while Truex and others pitted for two tires and many others pitted for four tires, including Christopher Bell and Chase Elliott.
Truex quickly fell back to 11th but recovered to fourth, still over six seconds behind teammate Bell. Bell passed Elliott with 42 to go and cruised to a playoff-clinching win.
With a Chase Elliott win or a Martin Truex Jr. win, Christopher Bell would’ve missed the playoffs.
Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway
In a race with several repeat winners possible, it finally shook out to two possible new winners – Kevin Harvick and Bubba Wallace – who restarted on the front row with 35 laps to go.
Harvick held off Wallace, who later expressed frustration over his best chance to win with the best car he ever had. Had he won, he would’ve clinched a spot in the playoffs at Michigan, instead of Harvick.
Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway
Kevin Harvick’s Michigan win was a breakthrough but his Richmond win broke one driver’s heart and could’ve broken another driver’s heart under different circumstances.
Harvick took the lead from Denny Hamlin with 48 laps to go and led Chris Buescher, who closed to within a half a second of getting a playoff-clinching win. Lap traffic quashed Buescher’s chances and put him into the hands of Christopher Bell. Bell passed Buescher but only closed to within four-tenths of a second of Harvick at the checkered flag.
If Buescher won, he would’ve made the playoffs. Alternatively, in a scenario like Truex winning at New Hampshire, Bell’s charge that came up short could’ve determined his playoff fate.
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