NASCAR Playoffs: Round of 12 Preview
An epic season of NASCAR Cup Series racing has led up to the final seven races of the 2022 campaign. And a championship chase even more unpredictable than the norm has narrowed itself down to a dozen drivers.
Darlington, Kansas and Bristol are in the books, and there were some big surprises among the first round of playoff cuts. Two former champions – Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch – were unexpectedly knocked out, with Busch’s final title run with Joe Gibbs Racing being punctuated by two engine failures over the three-race stretch.
Busch’s new home for 2023 – Richard Childress Racing – saw both of their drivers eliminated as well, with a disastrous final two races spelling the end for breakout star Tyler Reddick and regular-season finale winner Austin Dillon.
Next up is the Round of 12, which features some of the biggest “wildcard” races of the entire playoff stretch. Texas Motor Speedway kicks things off on Sunday, with the daunting superspeedway of Talladega and the treacherous Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval capping off the round.
Perhaps the biggest story of the opening round surrounded the drivers who failed to make NASCAR’s 10-race chase for the championship, as for the first time since the knockout format was introduced in 2014, all three races of a round were won by non-playoff drivers.
With that in mind, all 12 of the remaining championship contenders will be looking to make a Lone Star State statement at one of the most pivotal races of the year.
The field of playoff drivers now includes just three past champions. Regular-season champ Chase Elliott enters as the top seed with 40 playoff points to his name, while Joey Logano enters as the second seed with 25 and defending champion Kyle Larson has the fourth-most playoff points of any driver remaining with 19.
While those three figure to once again be among the favorites, the drivers in search of their first Cup title will no doubt provide plenty of challenges.
No driver was more consistent in the first round than Christopher Bell, as he finished top five in all three races. Bell’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, also had an impressive round, scoring runner-up finishes in the first two playoff events as he aims for his fourth-straight Championship 4 appearance.
Hendrick Motorsports remains the only team to have four drivers still in the playoffs, as Elliott and Larson are joined by William Byron and Alex Bowman, both of whom turned summer slumps into solid first-round performances.
Trackhouse Racing teammates Ross Chastain and Daniel Suárez are among the four first-time playoff drivers still in the hunt for the championship, and both drivers will be looking to make some more noise in this round after flying under the radar for the past few months.
Fellow first-timers Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric are the dark horses still left in the title fight, but both will need to step up to the plate in round two after being the only playoff drivers still remaining who failed to score a top 10 finish in the first round.
Ryan Blaney remains as the only driver left in the playoffs who has not yet scored a points-paying victory in 2022. However, he’ll likely be glad to get back to the Texas Motor Speedway to kick off the Round of 12, as he claimed victory in the NASCAR All-Star Race held at the speedway in May.
With 500 miles on Sunday separating 12 drivers from a potential guaranteed Round of 8 berth, it’s without a doubt that the drama and action will be – like everything else – bigger in Texas.
Kasey Kreider is a second-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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