Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway is more than a night race or a playoff race. It’s the first elimination playoff race, and when it’s all over, four drivers will be dropped from championship contention as the field shrinks from 16 to 12.
So who will advance, and who will be eliminated?
In the first of three races in the opening Round of 16, Denny Hamlin snapped his 31-race winless streak by taking the checkered flag in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. In the second playoff race, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Martin Truex Jr., won at Richmond Raceway. Their wins in the first round automatically advance them to the Round of 12, and the same is true for the Bristol winner — if he’s a playoff driver.
NASCAR playoffs guide: Everything you need to know about the postseason format
Along with Hamlin and Truex, regular-season champion Kyle Larson also clinched his spot in the Round of 12 based on the points he’s earned. But those are the only three spots locked up, and nine more are up for grabs among playoff drivers.
Here’s a breakdown of the playoff picture, how drivers can advance and our predictions for the first four playoff drivers eliminated.