Entering Saturday night’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol, the talk was about whether or not regular season points leader Martin Truex, Jr. would be able to escape an improbable first-round elimination.
Instead, it was two other former champs who saw their title hopes come to an end.
Joey Logano, the reigning series champion as well as the 2018 title winner, and 2014 champ Kevin Harvick, who is retiring at the end of the 2023 season, both entered the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race above the cut line. They both ended below it after disappointing performances.
Logano was involved in a crash at the beginning of Stage 3, when Corey LaJoie spun into traffic and collected him along with several others. It’s been a suboptimal season all around for Logano, who continues a remarkable trend of alternating years in which he makes the championship round of NASCAR’s playoffs with years in which he doesn’t.
Harvick, meanwhile, simply lacked speed and finished 29th, five laps down. Many expected that the retiring legend would go out with a bang, but instead, he will go out with a whimper.
Michael McDowell and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. were the other eliminations, though both fought hard by coming home with top-10 results at Bristol. Both drivers entered the race with very little chance of advancing.
Truex had to overcome plenty of adversity to earn his way through to the next round, going a lap down early and then hitting the wall later before fighting to a 19th place finish that was just good enough. On a sadder note, the NASCAR community’s thoughts are with Truex, whose longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex lost her battle with cancer on Sunday morning.
Bubba Wallace also entered Bristol on the wrong side of the bubble, needing to make up 19 points to advance. He did that by earning eight stage points in the opening stage, which proved to be the difference after he slid back to 14th at the finish.
The playoffs’ next round is sure to be an unpredictable one, with both a superspeedway (Talladega) and a road course (Charlotte Roval) following next weekend’s action at Texas.