Playoffs Heating Up with Move into Round of 12

Pull on your boots. Grab your hat. Saddle up. The Round of 12 in the NASCAR playoffs begins Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track in Fort Worth hosts its 19th postseason event for the Cup Series (2:30 p.m. CDT, USA Network) with 12 drivers within 36 points of each other. That includes the “hometown” entrant, Chris Buescher of Prosper, just an hour away. The RFK Racing competitor closed the regular season with three wins in five weeks.

At the top of the standings is William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, then a pair of Joe Gibbs Racing entries piloting Toyota Camry TRDs, Martin Truex Jr. in his No. 19 and Denny Hamlin in his No. 11 coming off a win at Bristol last week and a runner-up at Darlington the week before that makes him the series’ hottest racer.

The rest of the top eight includes Kyle Larson, the 2021 winner at Texas; Buescher; Kyle Busch, a four-time winner at Texas, including 2020; Christopher Bell of Norman, Okla., just three hours north across the Red River; and defending race champion Tyler Reddick.

The quartet below the cutline are Ross Chastain, a Championship 4 racer last season; Brad Keselowski, making his ninth appearance in the Round of 12 (he has never been eliminated in the first round); Ryan Blaney, who won the Texas-hosted All-Star Race in 2022; and Bubba Wallace, carrying no playoff points but now has the experience of twice avoiding elimination, at the end of the regular season and in the Round of 16.

Four drivers — Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Michael McDowell — were eliminated last week, but all drivers can still win a race. There are seven to go. Race trophies are still race trophies.

“I’m really bad at [losing], so I’m naturally pretty mad right now and determined to fix it,” said Logano, the 2022 Cup Series champion and Panini America’s NASCAR Brand Ambassador. “We might be out of this right now, but we still have the opportunity to get better.”

After Texas, the quarterfinals roll on with a visit to Alabama for some superspeedway racing at Talladega, then the hybrid road/oval course, the ROVAL, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Those next two stops are “wild card” races in the minds of many drivers because you never know what will happen at either.

“Talladega, it’s a little crazy and there is typically a lot of crashes,” Larson said. “So you put a lot of pressure on this race this weekend — or at least I do — to do a good job.”

The pressure’s on, for sure. It’s the playoffs. It’s Texas. Let’s ride.

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