NASCAR: Chris Buescher wins at Bristol as Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick knocked out of playoffs

Chris Buescher, front left, and Kevin Harvick (4) lead the pack during a restart at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Bristol, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Chris Buescher, front left, and Kevin Harvick (4) lead the pack during a restart at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Bristol, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

A late pit call got Chris Buescher a win at Bristol on Saturday night and meant that non-playoff drivers swept the first round of the Cup Series playoffs.

Buescher pitted for just two tires on the final pit stop cycle of the night and jumped into the top spot. With tires not showing much speed falloff as they wore out, Buescher was able to maintain the lead and get his second career Cup Series win. Buescher is the 19th winner through the first 29 races of 2022.

As Buescher won, Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick were eliminated from the playoffs as the playoff field was cut from 16 to 12 ahead of the second round.

Even though the tires weren’t slowing down as they got older they were failing as they aged. Myriad drivers had problems with tires over the course of the night. Both Christopher Bell and Brad Keselowski had tire problems while leading and other playoff drivers like Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney also had problems in addition to other drivers.

Saturday night's race turned into one of survival and avoiding mistakes. Numerous teams also had problems securing wheels during pit stops. Blaney will certainly be facing a four-race suspension for his crew chief after a wheel came off and rolled down pit road after his unscheduled stop for a tire failure early in the race.

Harvick entered the race essentially needing a win to get into the second round but saw any hopes for a win disappear on the final pit stop cycle when he had to back up and have his team reattach his left front wheel.

Daniel Suarez and Alex Bowman advanced to the second round of the playoffs despite being involved in a multi-car crash on lap 276 of the 500-lap race.

How Kyle Busch was eliminated

Busch was eliminated from the playoffs after his engine blew up just past the halfway point of the race. Busch ended up finishing 34th after the 23XI Racing car of Bubba Wallace returned to the track with mechanical problems.

Wallace passed Busch in the standings after he came back on track. That could have been vital because Busch ended up just two points back of Austin Cindric for 12th.

Cindric got into that tie with Busch when his Team Penske teammate Logano hit pit road for an apparent mechanical problem with 58 laps to go. Logano was already clinched into the next round of the playoffs and out of contention himself because he was laps down due to a tire problem earlier. Logano’s pit stop as his team looked at the right rear of his car allowed Cindric to pass him in the running order and gain a point he needed to pass Busch at the time.

The Daytona 500 winner ultimately finished more than a tiebreaker ahead of Busch and the position he gained on Logano and the spot Wallace gained on Busch didn’t matter. But it was still an odd move for a Toyota driver like Wallace to return to the track without the possibility of a good finish because of fellow Toyota driver Busch’s precarious position in the points standings and Wallace’s spot in the second round of the owner’s playoffs.

Thanks to his win at Kansas a week ago, Wallace and 23XI Racing had nothing to gain for the second round of the owner’s playoffs by putting Wallace’s car back on track.

Points standings entering second round

1. Chase Elliott, 3,040 points

2. Joey Logano, 3,025

3. Ross Chastain, 3,020

4. Kyle Larson, 3,019

5. William Byron, 3,015

6. Denny Hamlin, 3,013

7. Christopher Bell, 3,013

8. Ryan Blaney, 3,013

9. Chase Briscoe, 3,009

10. Alex Bowman, 3,007

11. Daniel Suarez, 3,007

12. Austin Cindric, 3,006

Race results

1. Chris Buescher

2. Chase Elliott

3. William Byron

4. Christopher Bell

5. Kyle Larson

6. Ross Chastain

7. AJ Allmendinger

8. Cole Custer

9. Denny Hamlin

10. Kevin Harvick

11. Michael McDowell

12. Justin Haley

13. Brad Keselowski

14. Chase Briscoe

15. Corey LaJoie

16. Harrison Burton

17. Cody Ware

18. Todd Gilliland

19. Daniel Suarez

20. Austin Cindric

21. Erik Jones

22. Landon Cassill

23. JJ Yeley

24. BJ McLeod

25. Tyler Reddick

26. Ty Dillon

27. Joey Logano

28. Aric Almirola

29. Bubba Wallace

30. Ryan Blaney

31. Austin Dillon

32. Alex Bowman

33. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

34. Kyle Busch

35. Ty Gibbs

36. Martin Truex Jr.