Kyle Busch and Bubba Wallace were among the four NASCAR Cup Series playoff drivers who championship chances ended Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr. skirted by these four drivers to make the next round:
Ross Chastain (-12 points to Truex)
Ross Chastain was calm entering Sunday’s race, despite being -10 points to the cutline after a devastating 37th-place crash DNF at Talladega.
Chastain got the job done in stage one, wrapping up eight points with a third-place effort.
In stage two, Chastain progressively gained track position and was set to possibly pick up a stage win on strategy – when that stage-ending caution fell on lap 49.
That left Chastain in sixth at the end of stage two with five bonus points. However, it also left him with poor track position as he began stage three in 26th.
Later in the race, Chastain was inside the top-20 when he ran wide on lap 93 to avoid Brad Keselowski spinning in the frontstretch chicane.
As Chastain pitted, teammate Daniel Suarez spun in turn eight and brought out the caution.
Chastain survived the midpack mayhem and drove to 10th in the end.
“We knew coming in that it was going to be tough. We put together a heck of a day for us on road courses this year. Lately, we’ve just been lacking speed and I can’t get over the curbs. There’s a lot of reasons. We’ve reverted on some of that through Watkins Glen and to here and it’s really paid off. I’m excited with the gains we’ve made,” Chastain said.
Chastain gave a realistic but optimistic perspective on his team’s performance.
“We came out of the box super strong in 2022 – won the first road course race in the Next Gen car. And then it just slowly kind of stepped back all the way until mid-season this year. Still, I can’t wait to get to work in the morning, to Las Vegas and every race after that,” he added.
Bubba Wallace (-17)
Wallace showed up to play Sunday as he started fourth and beat his previous-best career road course start by eight positions (Watkins Glen in August – 12th).
Once the race got underway, Wallace maintained solid track position, then placed second in stage one and earned nine bonus points.
That strategy cycled Wallace back to 26th when stage two began on lap 29. Wallace showed speed, jumping 11 positions in 13 laps.
The lap 49 caution meant Wallace placed seventh in stage two and earned four points. While it also meant he restarted 30th in stage three, he slowly gained track position and was in 11th on lap 89.
Then, Daniel Suarez wheel-hopped into Wallace who wrecked with Austin Cindric.
Wallace dropped to 32nd and lost 21 points, dropping to -35 points to the cutline. He recovered to 16th and missed the Round of 8.
“We weren’t supposed to be here according to a lot of people, but we proved them wrong and then proved a lot of people in the garage wrong that you can’t really count on the 23 at a road course race. That’s cool to say. Got to continue to work. I don’t think we’re a winning car yet, but we’re light years from where we were a few races ago,” Wallace said.
Brad Keselowski (-23)
Keselowski knew he was going to need a good day at the Roval with a driver like Tyler Reddick just two points behind him on the cutline.
It didn’t start well as Reddick won the pole, while Keselowski started 19th.
To make matters worse, on lap 19, Keselowski had to serve a drive-through penalty on pit road under green. That meant he couldn’t seize upon on any points in stage one and had to pit again under the subsequent caution.
Keselowski restarted 26th in stage two and struggled with track position. Then, the lap 49 caution shuffled him back to the top 10.
Keselowski was eighth when a caution fell for Andy Lally wrecking on lap 86 – and desperation set in at -12 points to the cutline.
Keselowski pitted and never regained his track position. Worse yet, he spun on lap 93 in the frontstretch chicane and pitted again, on lap 96.
Keselowski finished 18th, eliminated from the playoffs.
“It’s not the day we wanted but we’ve got a lot to be proud of. We kept clawing and it just wasn’t enough today. I felt like I could have done a few things better and obviously it’s frustrating when you don’t advance and you don’t get what you want out of the day, but we’ve got a lot of great things going on and we’ll learn from it and come back stronger,” Keselowski said.
Kyle Busch (-30)
The two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion entered the Charlotte Roval, -26 points to the cutline. He needed a win or an abundance of help to advance to the Round of 8.
Busch started fifth and slid to the back half of the top-10. Then, after short pitting in stage one, he placed eighth in the stage, picking up three points.
Track position was in Busch’s favor Sunday as he started stage two in fourth. Again, on lap 43, he short-pitted and caught a caution six laps later that ended the stage.
That let Busch cycle to the lead on lap 52, a lap before stage three began.
Busch led for six laps before A.J. Allmendinger pounced on his progressively ill-handling racecar. Allmendinger took the lead, pushing Busch back.
Busch stayed in the top-5, though. On lap 96, with 13 to go, Busch ran third and took advantage of Ty Gibbs’ mistake to move to second.
A quick caution gave Busch a chance to go after Allmendinger and get a win to save his season. However, after he slid exiting the restart zone, William Byron took second, leaving Busch to settle for third.
“We gave it a valiant effort. That was about what we thought we would get out of here, at least what I thought. We had good speed, just wasn’t able to hold on with the tires as long as I wanted to. We’ll take that,” Busch said. “It rides on my shoulders anyway with the previous two weeks – not getting anything out of Texas and not getting a lot out of Talladega but we’ll fight on another day.”
Busch finished 34th after a wreck at Texas and 25th after contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Talladega.
The best either Busch, Keselowski, Wallace or Chastain can finish in the final NASCAR Cup Series points standings is fifth.