CupScene Playoff Performance Ratings after Texas

FORT WORTH, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 24: Tyler Reddick, driver of the #45 Jordan Brand Toyota, Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Interstate Batteries Toyota, Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, and Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway on September 24, 2023 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Texas Motor Speedway shook up the Playoff picture with its share of surprises. The first round of the Round of 12, the postseason continued with a slimmed-down field at an incredibly hot track.

Each driver’s performance at Bristol is scored on a 1-to-10 scale, with a score of 1 reserved for a terrible performance with no redeeming qualities and 10 reserved for a perfect and dominating performance. Performance over the entire weekend is factored in, since qualifying results make race days easier or more difficult.

Bristol was the first race of the Round of 12. Strong runs proved essential to being in good position as the round continues. This rating gives an indication of each driver’s relative performance throughout the Playoffs.

FORT WORTH, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 24: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 McDonald’s Toyota, Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Toyota, and Brad Keselowski, driver of the #6 Ford, exit pit road during the NASCAR Cup Series Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway on September 24, 2023 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

9.5 – Bubba Wallace (3rd)

Bubba Wallace has only gotten to this stage of the postseason by the skin of his teeth, but he proved he earned his place on Sunday. He may not have won, but starting on the pole, collecting stage points for ninth and tenth respectively, and finishing third after leading the most laps of any driver showed that his No. 23 team did have the speed to compete.

It may not be enough to move him above the cutline, as he still remains a disappointing two points below leaving Texas, but it certainly reduces the deficit that he carried into the round in a big way. Wallace said after that he didn’t care about the points and only wanted a win, but it was a strong performance regardless that puts him in good shape going forward.

9 – William Byron (1st)

William Byron started eighteenth, and, though he drove through the field to contend – including picking up points for finishing fourth in Stage 1 – he never really seemed to be in position to win despite plenty of speed. That is, until the end, when he made an aggressive three-wide pass on the leaders and never looked back.

It was a strong run for Byron that locks him into the next round and showed he and his team could be fast and aggressive when it counted. However, it was short of a dominant performance.

9 – Ross Chastain (2nd)

Ross Chastain started up towards the front in fifth and finished second. That’s a perfectly solid day for a Playoff contender, although it was still disappointing for Chastain in this instance. He was in position late when it counted, battling with Bubba Wallace for the lead, but couldn’t get by him before William Byron mounted his charge. Chastain did ultimately get around Wallace, but it wasn’t until after both had been passed by Byron and Chastain had to settle for second. And this was all despite a slow pit stop early in the third stage that sent him deep in the field, part of an engine issue that plagued him all race.

Although missing out on a win is always disappointing, a good finish is especially valuable since Chastain entered the round below the provisional cutline based on Playoff points. He leaves Texas in sixth in the table with a twelve-point buffer. The only thing Chastain could use is a few more stage points: he only got three points for finishing eighth in Stage 2.

FORT WORTH, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 24: Ty Gibbs, driver of the #54 Interstate Batteries Toyota, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Toyota, make contact as they exit pit road during the NASCAR Cup Series Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway on September 24, 2023 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

8.5 – Christopher Bell (4th)

Christopher Bell managed to stay up front despite challenges throughout his race and finish fourth. He finished third in Stage 1 despite a slow pit stop in that stage – a problem his No. 20 team has faced throughout the Playoffs. His pit crew was swapped with Ty Gibbs’ crew, one of the fastest on pit road, to start the Playoffs, and has not been able to keep up its performance. That needs to improve if Bell has championship aspirations, but his resilience was on full display, a quality that will certainly help the driver.

“We had to overcome a slow performance, that is for sure,” Bell said. “We got away with one today. We didn’t have the pace to run fourth for sure. The restarts worked out in our favor, and we were able to sneak by on the bottom and get a good finish out of it. This is one of those days that I’m going to be really, really happy on Wednesday or Thursday, but right now, I’m pretty disappointed.”

8 – Denny Hamlin (5th)

Denny Hamlin’s biggest trouble came from his own teammate at Texas. He collided with Ty Gibbs on pit road when Gibbs ran the inside of pit road, giving Hamlin nowhere to go exiting his pit stall. It was a hard hit for both drivers, and Hamlin suffered his fair share of damage. Still, he recovered for fifth and picked up a host of points from finishing ninth in Stage 1 and third in Stage 2.

“Once we got the damage, it just wasn’t as fast as it was before. Still, considering how much damage it had – it was a top-three car. A bunch of carnage happened there in the end, and we avoided it, so we are in a better spot than when we entered,” Hamlin said of his Playoff position, which is a 37-point buffer to the cutline.

FORT WORTH, TX – SEPTEMBER 24: Bubba Wallace (#23 23XI Racing McDonald’s Toyota) leads the way at the start of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 on September 24 ,2023 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Thomas Walko/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

6.5 – Chris Buescher (14th)

Things just didn’t work out for Chris Buescher at Texas. It started great. After qualifying fast enough for second, Buescher finished in second Stage 1 and fifth in Stage 2, showing race-winning speed. It continues Buescher’s strong run on ovals recently, and this is the part of the season that counts. However, his fourteenth-place finish doesn’t reflect the quality of his race, and was just the result of bad strategy calls and a poor short run car. Still, Buescher showed he had the speed to win some more in his breakout season if things go a little more his way.

“It was a great day for us. A really strong day,” Buescher said. “We made a lot of speed and got a lot of stage points and we ran in the top-five a lot today. At the end there we tried some strategy to make something happen and we couldn’t keep green flag conditions for more than a couple laps at a time so we bled off all the laps that we needed to do something.”

6 – Brad Keselowski (7th)

Brad Keselowski also had the qualifying speed of his RFK Racing teammate Chris Buescher. Team owner Keselowski started third, but didn’t quite have Buescher’s speed to run up front. Instead, Keselowski hung around the back of the top ten and finished seventh in Stage 2. He was able to finish seventh after a series of late-race restarts too, capping off a solid day. Keselowski leaves Texas above the provisional cutline in the standings by eight points, which is always a good thing as well.

“All in all it was a great effort today for us and we scored a lot of points and didn’t beat ourselves and I am really proud of that,” Keselowski summed up his day. “Just a few things that I need to clean up a little bit and a few breaks we needed to catch too.”

5 – Tyler Reddick (25th)

Things outside of Tyler Reddick’s control pushed put a fast racecar out of contention altogether. Reddick won Stage 1 outright, demonstrating his speed. A slow pit stop in the second stage meant he failed to collect any points at the second scheduled caution. More importantly, bad timing on pit stop in the third stage meant he was pushed a lap down when the caution came out for a spin and had to take wave around late in the race.

Reddick was never really able to advance from there and finished 25th. The poor finish means he leaves Texas in equally poor points position, three points below the cutline in tenth with two races to go before the bottom four drivers are eliminated to set the field for the Round of 8.

4 – Kyle Larson (31st)

Kyle Larson’s Texas race will go down as a missed opportunity for the driver for some time. Looking to secure Hendrick Motorsport’s 300th win, Larson climbed from an eleventh-place starting position to win Stage 2 despite being outside the top ten in Stage 1 and battled for the lead late with Bubba Wallace.

However, in the closing laps of the final stage, Larson spun while battling Wallace and ended up finishing 31st, losing out on all the post-race points to reward his strong run. It fell to his teammate William Byron to get Rick Hendrick his 300th win. As for Larson, he leaves Texas in a much more precarious Playoff position than he entered, just two points above the cutline in eighth, which will be the final transfer spot when the Round of 8 starts after the next two races.

FORT WORTH, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 24: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Dutch Boy Ford, spins after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway on September 24, 2023 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

3.5 – Ryan Blaney (28th)

Ryan Blaney admitted it was a ‘driver mistake’ that cost his No. 12 team a good finish at Texas. Blaney started back in 28th but moved up to seventh in Stage 1 and fourth Stage 2. However, he sped on pit road in Stage 3, a critical mistake that can’t happen in the Playoffs. That put him back in the pack, and then he ended up involved in the Kyle Larson crash in front of him in Stage 3, which took him out of the race and relegated Blaney to a 28th-place finish.

“It was an up and down day, definitely, and it ended with a down,” Blaney said. “We got better and then I sped on pit road. That really took us out of it. Took us out of having a good finish. When you put yourself back there then you get in a wreck. A slight sliver of hope and proud of the work all day on getting better and getting stage points but a driver mistake puts us back in the stuff and getting wrecked.”

3 – Martin Truex Jr. (17th)

Martin Truex Jr. just didn’t have the speed at Texas. It’s becoming a worrying trend for the No. 19 team throughout this season’s Playoffs as well. Truex only narrowly made the cut at Bristol to advance to this round after suffering from both issues and just a lack of speed in the first round, and his massive Playoff haul from being the regular season champion puts him in solid position.

Still, finishing 17th overall after starting 16th and failing to score even a single stage point means Truex has already bled points from his big advantage, a big risk in this Playoff round: the next two races before elimination are wildcards at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval. He’ll need more than what he had last round to advance as the Playoff field keeps getting smaller.

2- Kyle Busch (34th)

Kyle Busch needs to pit Texas in his rearview mirror. His day ended early in a spin and hard contact with the wall in Stage 2 after complaining about a vibration. The contact was hard enough for him to have to retire. It was especially a shame, too, because he was fast before that point. However, he wasn’t fast enough to collect stage points in Stage 1 and was out of the race by the end of Stage 2.

The lack of points puts Busch in a difficult position heading into the two wildcard races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval to close out the round. He is last of the Round of 12 drivers in the standings with a 17-point deficit to the cutline after just the first race.

Owen Johnson