Rick Hendrick was not the happiest man in South Carolina on Sunday after all four of his cars finished the day nearly destroyed. While Kyle Larson finished second, he sacrificed his car for a chance at the win; but since this was that particular car’s last outing due to the new cars next season, it was a big IQ play.
Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, and William Byron all had more significant issues that damaged their playoff standings to a dangerous degree. Both Bowman and Byron are currently sitting behind the cut line with Elliott teetering on the edge. It’s hard to believe any of the Hendrick cars being first-round knockouts after the season they’ve had, but it’s much more possible than you’d think.
Bowman and Elliott, I am less worried about because they both have had success at Richmond and Bristol in the past, Bowman even won this race earlier this year. William Byron is the lone HMS driver I think should be getting nervous as we head to the cutoff.
In 6 starts at Richmond, William Byron posts a mediocre average finish of 16th with only 1 top ten that came earlier this season. In 6 starts at Bristol, he has an average finish of 21st and once again only 1 top ten, even worse though, only 3 top twenties.
Compare those stats to his non-Hendrick competition that will be on the cut line for this round in Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, and Aric Almirola and it becomes very clear that he’s at a disadvantage in terms of track success. Almirola is the only one that can match Byron’s lowly stat line at Bristol but makes up for it at Richmond.
Reddick, Bell, Almirola, and Byron are in my opinion currently racing for one available spot because you’d assume Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman will rebound based on their track records at Richmond and Bristol, knocking out two of the three mentioned in the paragraph above. Anything can happen though.
Byron’s inability to consistently win races, and how bad he’s been at these two upcoming tracks, give me the assumption that he is a goner. He’s still in HMS equipment so you can never truly count him out, but it’s a cause for concern that his unfortunate Darlington outing has put him in a tight spot.
If you made me predict the four out after this first race, I’d say, William Byron, Aric Almirola, Tyler Reddick, and Michae McDowell will all be eliminated. This is a far cry from what my first-round predictions were last week, so obviously, take my opinion with a grain of salt.