As the series heads to Bristol for the first elimination race of the playoffs, only 26 points separate 10th-place Kyle Busch from 15th-place William Byron. In between them are Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman and Tyler Reddick. The cutoff spot for advancing to the next round is 12th-place, so it’s anyone’s guess which drivers among this group are going to make the cut. Kurt Busch and Bowman are currently tied for the final transfer spot, with Almirola just three points ahead of them.
“We finished 14th at Richmond instead of sixth or seventh, which is about where we were running, so frustrating that we gave up those points,” Almirola said. “In this situation, we can’t really give up any points. It would have been a lot nicer to go to Bristol plus 12 (points) instead of plus three, but it is what it is. It’s no big deal. We’ve got to put our head down and go race. It’s the same situation. We’ve just got to go racing and score as many points as we can.”
In the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, Almirola expects Saturday night’s elimination race at Bristol to be highly competitive. “The playoffs always bring out the best in us,” the Stewart-Haas Racing driver said. “The intensity level ratchets way up and every spot matters, every point matters during the stages and every finishing position matters, so I don’t think it can get any more aggressive. It’s already really aggressive, and it will continue to be that way. We were in a similar position last year ahead of the cutoff line, and we just didn’t execute in the first stage enough to get us points, so we have to get those points early. You have to be there at the end, too, so there is a fine balance.”