NAS­CAR Cup Se­ries heads to Las Ve­gas Mo­tor Speed­way

Through the Gears

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - — God­win Kelly

Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, 2019 Cup Se­ries cham­pion Kyle Busch among those on the bub­ble,

Bris­tol Mo­tor Speed­way pro­vided the cleaver that hacked off 25% of the NAS­CAR Cup Se­ries play­off field. The post­sea­son said adios to four driv­ers as the field nar­rowed to an even dozen. The two who had to win to ad­vance did not while two oth­ers, who were out­side the cut line go­ing in, were swal­lowed by the bub­ble.

Now it’s on to Las Ve­gas Mo­tor Speed­way.

FIRST GEAR: The top 12 driv­ers go­ing into Bris­tol in the stand­ings were the same names who had their pa­pers pro­cessed for Round 2. Kevin Har­vick lit­er­ally led the post-sea­son pa­rade with his sec­ond win in Round 1. He opened the play­offs with a South­ern 500 win at Dar­ling­ton.

Clint Bowyer will start the next round at the back of the bus. He is al­ready 82 points be­hind Har­vick, his team­mate at Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing, as Round 2 fires off the line. The new bub­ble fight­ers are Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and 2019 Cup Se­ries cham­pion Kyle Busch, who has gone win­less this sea­son. When asked about his chances of ad­vanc­ing, Kyle was quick with an an­swer: “We’ll be elim­i­nated in the next round.”

SEC­OND GEAR: The four guys left on the play­off chop­ping block were rookie Cole Custer, Wil­liam By­ron, Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedett­o, who was hop­ing to ad­vance for the sake of Wood Broth­ers Rac­ing.

“I can’t pos­si­bly ex­plain to peo­ple the emo­tional roller coaster of do­ing this for a liv­ing,” DiBenedett­o said.

THIRD GEAR: The two driv­ers on a mis­sion right now are Jim­mie John­son, who failed to make the play­offs, and Kyle Busch. John­son, a sev­en­time Cup cham­pion, hopes to score his 84th ca­reer vic­tory be­fore leav­ing the sport for some IndyCar/sports-car ac­tion. Busch’s last win was the 2019 sea­son fi­nale, which took him to the ti­tle.

FOURTH GEAR: Brad Ke­selowski, who won at Rich­mond to earn a pass into Round 2, said the path for­ward is sim­ple enough, on pa­per: “Ob­vi­ously we just can’t have me­chan­i­cal fail­ures, those are killers. And I can’t make mis­takes and run into the wall.”

JARED C. TILTON/GETTY IM­AGES

Kyle Busch is re­al­is­tic about his slim chances to stay in the cham­pi­onship hunt: “We’ll be elim­i­nated in the next round.”

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