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September 16, 2023

Advance Through the Playoffs: Short tracks bring out the best in these drivers


Chris Buescher celebrates with his team after 2022 Bristol Night Race win
Sean Gardner
Getty Images

Kyle Larson, Chris Buescher, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell and Joey Logano are the names that rise to the top when looking at short-track stats in the Next Gen car. With Larson already qualified for the Round of 12 by virtue of his victory at Darlington Raceway and Denny Hamlin sitting comfortably at 49 points above the elimination line, let’s focus on Buescher (+13), Bell (+13) and Logano (+12) before Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (6:30 p.m. ET, USA, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App).

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Logano is perhaps the most difficult of the three to figure out, but he is also coming off the best finish at Kansas Speedway, a fifth-place showing helped by crew chief Paul Wolfe’s late two-tire call. Logano trails only Larson in average finish on short tracks in the Next Gen car at 8.88, but Logano finished 27th last year in the Bristol playoff race. Logano’s only finish worse than that on a short track recently was a 37th place in the Bristol Dirt Race earlier this season. The defending Cup champion will need to somehow translate the short-track success from other tracks over to Bristol in order to advance.

For Buescher, everything was rolling along quite nicely until last week’s 27th-place finish at Kansas. Before that, the breakout driver for RFK Racing had won three of the previous six races, including a short-track victory at Richmond Raceway. Buescher won this race last season as a non-playoff driver, and he and Larson have combined to win four of the last five short-track races. Buescher will need to rebound quickly from Kansas in order to keep the dream of chasing a championship alive.

Bell sits third behind Larson and Denny Hamlin in points scored on short tracks in the Next Gen car. He is also third in average finish behind Larson and Logano. Bell is coming off an eighth-place finish at Kansas where he had to overcome multiple incidents, including a slow pit stop when the car fell off the jack. With all the trouble he went through at Kansas, the resiliency that Bell and his team showed is encouraging. Bell also came through with wins in elimination races last year at Charlotte and Martinsville. But Bell and his crew need to clean things up if they want to advance because the No. 20 team has had just one incident-free race in the last 11 races.

PLAYOFF PICTURE

KYLE LARSON: Even though Larson’s advancement to the Round of 12 is secure, it’s still hard to bet against him at Bristol. In his last eight trips to Thunder Valley, Larson has averaged nearly 100 laps led and has finished in the top 10 seven times.

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Truex Jr. has six short-track wins in his career, but none of them have come at Bristol. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has only four top-10 finishes in 32 career Bristol starts, which is not a good sign considering he sits seven points beneath the elimination line.

KYLE BUSCH: Busch is the active leader with eight victories at Bristol, but he has finished 21st or worst in the last two Bristol races (both in the Next Gen car). The Richard Childress Racing driver has finished outside the top 10 in four of the last five short-track races, so even though he’s 24 points above the elimination line, he doesn’t seem completely safe.

KEVIN HARVICK: Like Truex and Logano, Harvick is another former champion who resides near the elimination line as he holds a slim seven-point margin to the plus side. The good news is that among drivers who have not yet locked into the Round of 12, Harvick leads with an average of 43.3 points in Bristol playoff races.

Projections as of Saturday, Sept. 16:

RACING INSIGHTS’ PROJECTIONS FOR THE BASS PRO SHOPS NIGHT RACE

Racing Insights’ advanced statistical formula includes current track, current track type, recent performance, team data and pit-crew data to arrive at a projected winner and full race results.

FinishCar NumberDriver
111Denny Hamlin
25Kyle Larson
36Brad Keselowski
44Kevin Harvick
520Christopher Bell
624William Byron
79Chase Elliott
817Chris Buescher
919Martin Truex Jr.
1045Tyler Reddick
1123Bubba Wallace
1212Ryan Blaney
131Ross Chastain
1422Joey Logano
158Kyle Busch
1614Chase Briscoe
1754Ty Gibbs
1816AJ Allmendinger
1948Alex Bowman
2043Erik Jones
2110Aric Almirola
2241Ryan Preece
2334Michael McDowell
2499Daniel Suárez
257Corey LaJoie
263Austin Dillon
2731Justin Haley
2847Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
292Austin Cindric
3038Todd Gilliland
3121Harrison Burton
3277Ty Dillon
3342Carson Hocevar
3451Ryan Newman
3515J.J. Yeley
3678BJ McLeod
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