Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Playoff Pulse: Analyzing the field after Richmond

After the middle race of the Round of 16 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, here’s a brief look at the playoff picture. There is one race remaining in the Round of 16 before the field is whittled to 12, with four drivers eliminated from the postseason after the Sept. 18 race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Winner

Martin Truex Jr. Truex Jr. bounced back from a first-lap penalty to claim his fourth win of the season and the 31st victory of his NASCAR Cup Series career. Truex led a 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing with Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell coming in behind him.

RELATED: Race results | At-track photos

Who’s hot

Denny Hamlin. Hamlin entered the playoffs without a win, but now he’s arguably the hottest driver in these playoffs. The pilot of the No. 11 JGR Toyota followed up his Darlington victory with a second-place showing at Richmond.

Kyle Busch. He came to Richmond two points below the elimination line and $50,000 lighter in the pockets after being fined for speeding off to the garage last weekend. But Busch showed his resiliency with a ninth-place run at Richmond that put him eight points to the good heading into Bristol.

Who’s not

Kurt Busch. His night ended abruptly when the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet hit the outside wall on Lap 41 after a left-rear tire went down. Busch was running third at the time of the accident but was scored in last place after the wreck.

Tyler Reddick. He started the night 12th in the standings, but a 15th-place run was enough to drop him five points below the elimination line. Now Reddick will probably need a repeat of last year when he finished fourth at Bristol Motor Speedway in order to advance to the Round of 12.

BUBBLE WATCH

Rank Driver Points to cutoff
9. Brad Keselowski +13
10. Kyle Busch +8
11. Aric Almirola +3
12. Kurt Busch +0
——– ELIMINATION LINE ———-
13. Alex Bowman -0
14. Tyler Reddick -5
15. William Byron -18
16. Michael McDowell -38

Next race

The NASCAR Cup Series travels to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race on Sept. 18 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Who it favors

Kevin Harvick. Kyle Busch leads the series with three wins and six top fives in Bristol’s last six races, but Harvick has two wins himself and a better average finish — 10.0 to Busch’s 14.5 — during that span. He’s the defending race winner, to boot, and could use a strong Round of 16 to supercharge a late-season run to the title.

Who it hurts

William Byron. After a rough start to the Round of 16, Hendrick Motorsports’ youngest driver could find the closing race challenging, as well. Byron owns finishes of 23rd, 21st and 38th in the three Bristol Night Races under his belt, and only has one top 10 (spring 2020) in his other three starts at the Tennessee track.