Charlotte Observer NASCAR reporter Shane Connuck passed along updates from today’s Cup Series playoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway. See those musings in the section below.
Lap 500: Denny Hamlin coasted to the victory. He didn’t lead for most of the race, but he did at the most important times, and his prowess during the final stage lifted the No. 11 car to victory.
He beat out Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher and Ty Gibbs.
Martin Truex Jr. and Bubba Wallace will advance. Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael McDowell have been eliminated.
Lap 450: Michael McDowell continues running in fifth place. However, the No. 34 car needs a win to advance, still sitting 15 points below the cutline in 16th place.
Your Top 10: Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher, Michael McDowell, Ty Gibbs, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Carson Hocevar and Brad Keselowski.
Lap 411: Denny Hamlin still holds the lead. He’s led for 56 laps. Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher and Ty Gibbs follow.
Playoff drivers find themselves all over the field. Truex is running a lap down and continues working through the field after being flagged for a caution earlier.
Lap 362: Caution! Martin Truex Jr. is loose after spinning and hitting the wall. He says on his radio that he doesn’t think he has a flat tire. He’ll be a lap down.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 17, 2023
Lap 360: Denny Hamlin has taken the lead from Ty Gibbs. He’s already clinched his spot in the Round of 12.
Lap 345: Ty Gibbs, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson remain out in front. Joey Logano is officially out of the race, likely ending the defending Cup Series champion’s hopes of advancing.
Taking a look at the playoff bubble: Ryan Blaney is currently in ninth (+23), followed by Ross Chastain (+19), Martin Truex Jr. (+4) and Bubba Wallace (+3).
Logano (-4), Kevin Harvick (-4), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-9) and Michael McDowell (-17) would be eliminated.
Lap 275: Ty Gibbs is hanging onto the lead as Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson run behind him.
Lap 261: We’re green for the final stage of the round of 16 — and we’ve already got our fifth caution!
Corey Lajoie spun out and collided into Joey Logano. The No. 22 Ford is out. The playoffs are likely finished for the defending champion, which would mark the first time that a reigning champion is eliminated in the first round.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 17, 2023
Lap 250: Christopher Bell has swept the stages. It’s the third time a driver at Bristol has won both stages, but he’s never won the race, according to the NBC broadcast.
Meanwhile, the live playoff standings have Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano are tied for the 11th and 12th spots, respectively. Bubba Wallace is just below (-3), Kevin Harvick (-7), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-8) and Michael McDowell (-15).
Your Top 10: Bell, Ty Gibbs, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Carson Hocevar, Michael McDowell, Chris Buescher, William Byron, Ryan Preece and Chase Elliott.
Lap 236: Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson continue leading the pack on the short track.
Several playoff drivers keep finding themselves down in the standings, including Bubba Wallace (20th), Martin Truex Jr. (23rd), Joey Logano (31st) and Kevin Harvick (32nd). Nearing the end of Stage 2, Bell, Larson, Ty Gibbs, Michael McDowell Denny Hamlin are out in front.
Lap 184: Kyle Larson has passed Christopher Bell! The 5 and 20 cars are battling for the lead. Ty Gibbs and Michael McDowell are not far behind.
Lap 161: Christopher Bell remains in the lead, followed by Ty Gibbs and Kyle Larson.
Green flag, 8:21 p.m., Lap 141: We’re green again!
8:16 p.m.: Teams have uncovered the cars. Drivers have been told to re-fire their engines.
Red flag, 8:03 p.m., Lap 138: The rain is picking up in Bristol. Drivers have completely stopped on Pit Road as crews are covering their cars.
NASCAR told drivers to stay in their cars, according to the NBC broadcast, so we’ll see how long this lasts. The Top 10: Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, William Byron, Ty Gibbs, Chase Elliott, Chris Buescher, Michael McDowell, Ryan Preece, Alex Bowman and Ryan Blaney.
Lap 120: Through Stage 1 at Bristol!
Christopher Bell, the pole-winner, records his third stage win of the season.
Your current Top 10: Bell, Corey LaJoie, Bubba Wallace, William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Ross Chastain, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr. and Ty Gibbs.
Truex, the regular-season championship who now finds himself on the bubble, currently sits below the cutline. Lot more ahead!
Lap 115: Christopher Bell passes Corey LaJoie for the lead! LaJoie had been leading since before the caution for rain.
Lap 107: Caution is out for rain in Bristol! Corey Lajoie is still in front, followed by Christopher Bell and Bubba Wallace.
Lap 76: We’re green again after that caution! Corey LaJoie has emerged in the lead, followed by Bubba Wallace (who pretty much needs to win to advance, though he could on points with help) and Ross Chastain.
Lap 69: Down in 31st place, AJ Allmendinger hit a wall and made contact with Austin Cindric, bringing out the first caution.
Green flag, 7:10 p.m.: Pole-winner Christopher Bell leads the pack early, with Denny Hamlin and Michael McDowell behind him.
Kyle Larson is the favorite at 9-2 odds, according to Sportsline. Denny Hamlin, William Byron, pole-winner Christopher Bell and Brad Keselowski follow.
Shane Connuck is predicting William Byron to be the one driving down Victory Lane tonight. The leader with five wins, Byron hasn’t won since Watkins Glen in August. He’ll start third tonight.
How to watch the NASCAR playoffs at Bristol
Where: Bristol Motor Speedway (Bristol, Tenn.)
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR
Date: Saturday, Sept. 16
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET (moved from 7:30 p.m. because of forecasted rain)
Distance: 266.5 miles (500 laps)
Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125; Stage 2 ends on Lap 250; the Final Stage ends on Lap 500.