Non-playoff drivers have won each of the first two Cup playoff races, and two former champions are in danger of being eliminated.

Welcome to the 2022 Cup playoffs — where up is down.

In an unpredictable season that had 16 different winners in the regular season, two more names joined that list in the playoffs. Erik Jones won the Southern 500, and Bubba Wallace claimed Sunday’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Never have non-playoff drivers won the opening two races of NASCAR’s postseason.

The result is that only one of the 16 playoff drivers has clinched a spot in the second round going into Bristol’s cutoff race Saturday night. Points leader Christopher Bell, who scored 19 stage points on the way to placing third, has a large enough advantage that he’ll move on.

Nothing else is certain.

That includes the fate of a pair of former champions, who have never been eliminated in the first round.

Kevin Harvick, the 2014 Cup champ, needs to all but win at Bristol or his title hopes are over after a fire ended his race at Darlington and he crashed Sunday at Kansas to finish last in the 36-car field.

“We were racing to win anyway today, so that is what we will do again next week,” Harvick said.

Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch, who is expected to announce Tuesday morning that he’ll join Richard Childress Racing in 2023, is two points behind Austin Cindric for the final transfer spot. Busch’s crew incurred a pit road penalty and he spun before finishing 26th Sunday.

Bristol shouldn’t be an issue for Busch, who has nine Cup wins at the track, including the dirt race in the spring. Unless …

“If I can have past Bristol results be Bristol results, then, yeah, shouldn’t be a problem,” Busch said of advancing to the next round. “But if I have Bristol results similar to what’s happened this year every week, then no, it’s going to be an uphill battle.”

Austin Dillon also is outside a transfer spot. He is three points behind Cindric after finishing 14th.

“We just fought balance … all day,” Dillon said. “The same thing we’ve fought all year, really. We had high hopes because we qualified pretty decent.

“I’m proud of our guys, we fought hard. We kept ourselves in it, and we have a shot at Bristol.”

Briscoe is nine points behind Cindric for that final transfer spot after what was a frustrating 13th-place finish.

Pit road tormented Briscoe. He and Alex Bowman made contact on one stop. Briscoe was boxed in behind Cody Ware during a stop at Lap 139 of the 267-lap race.

“(Bowman) started leaving right when I was turning in, so I tried to straighten back up and kind of stop,” Briscoe said of his encounter with the Hendrick Motorsports driver. “He was trying to come out and we just hit each other. It was a frustrating day on pit road for us.

“We finally got up to fourth, was really good there. I thought we were top-five car and came down for that pit stop and (Ware) trapped me. I go from running fourth to running 14th, and we were stuck there the rest of the day.

“Frustrating when it’s the last car on the lead lap and wasn’t really racing for anything and kind of killed our day. Definitely frustrated. I feel like that was probably the maddest I’ve ever been in a race car in my life, knowing what was on the line and knowing that we had done all that work.”

The last time Cup was at Bristol, Briscoe made a desperate attempt at leader Tyler Reddick on the last lap but spun and collected Reddick, allowing Busch to score his only Cup win of the season.

Briscoe remained optimistic about his chances of advancing.

“At Bristol, a lot of things can happen,” Briscoe said. “If you are 20 points above the cutline, I don’t know if you are going to feel safe going into there.”


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