As the 2021 NASCAR schedule gets deeper into its playoff phase, the 16 drivers who were afforded a chance at winning this year’s championship will soon become 12 and at the end of the upcoming Bass Pro Shops Night Race, four drivers will reach the end of the road.
That’s because the event at Bristol Motor Speedway is one that signifies the final race in the Round of 16 and with two previous rounds already taking place, there is a clear distinction between who is currently in the danger zone and those who are still looking over their shoulders.
Of those who are currently in the line of fire, the plight of Michael McDowell is of most concern and with the 36-year-old currently bringing up the rear in terms of the sweet 16, his championship hopes are considerably thin.
To the point where it would take something remarkable for the Arizona-born racer to advance to the next phase of proceedings and when you look at his pair of previous playoff results, there is very little for him to write home about.
While if pen was to be put to figurative paper, it would record the fact that McDowell has only managed to be classified in 37th and 28th place respectively and with poor showings at both the Cook Out Southern 500 and the Federated Auto Parts 400, hopes of progress seems like wishful thinking.
Thinking that would not see bettors in a rush to back the No.34 car to victory and for those who have a Betonline account, there are far greater options to choose from in terms of reaching the checkered flag first.
Options that may need to come from further down the field at the Bass Pro Shops Night Race and with a handful of other drivers still far from playoff safety, an interesting battle awaits at the Bristol Motor Speedway.
A battle that will see William Byron aim to pull himself away from 15th in the current playoff standings and although his hopes of advancement are not as fantastical, the 23-year-old will undoubtedly face an uphill challenge.
A challenge that in the grand scheme of things may have to wait another year and although disappointment may come around in the short-term, a glistening and lengthy career is something that he can certainly carve out for himself in the future.
Two most likely down and two still to go and it is at this juncture that things can get a lot more interesting. If only because eight points separate the next four drivers in the standings and it is here, where the pack could be shuffled.
The next driver in danger is Tyler Reddick and with two top-twenty finishes recorded in this year’s playoff phase, there is a sense of momentum that has been cultivated by the Richard Childress Racing entrant.
An 18th place finish at the Cook Out Southern 500 was then followed up by a 15th place finish at the Federated Auto Parts 400 and it is this pair of finishes which have at least created a sense of optimism within his garage.
However, that optimism would have dissipated slightly by the time the final race results were recorded for the Federated Auto Parts 400 and with points rival Alex Bowman finishing 12th himself, it gave the No.48 an advantage in the standings.
An advantage that at the time of writing, has not been converted into safety from the drop and with Bowman joint on points going into this final race of the Round of 16, it may end up being a straight duel with Kurt Busch.
These two men go into the Bass Pro Shops Night Race with 2053 points each to their name and it could mean that whoever finishes in the higher position, is the final driver to make up the dirty dozen in the Round of 12.
Then again, it could mean that Bowman repeats his efforts of the race before and if a near top-ten finish is recorded, there is no reason why the two men above him are subsequently frozen out of the championship picture.
The movements of these three men in particular will undoubtedly be of interest this weekend and if they all manage to impress in Bristol, it could see Aric Almirola drop into the bottom four by the time the last flag is waved.
Which means just because Almirola starts the weekend lying 11th in the standings, does not necessarily mean he will stay there and if luck goes against him, then so will he have any chance of winning this year’s edition of the NASCAR Series Cup.
Of course, this is just the tale of the tape at the back of the field (in terms of championship hopes) and with the genuine contenders also looking to strengthen their own outright position, there is going to be no shortage of drama at the 2021 edition of the Bass Pro Shops Night Race.