2022 Round of 16 preview, 5 things to watch for this opening round

26 races down. 10 to go. The NASCAR Cup Series begins their pursuit of the championship this weekend at the Darlington Raceway. The prestigious Southern 500 is ahead which begins the 2022 postseason.

Here are things I’m watching this round.

Will Kyle Busch Turn Things Around?

Kyle Busch is the only multi-time NASCAR Cup Series champion in the field. An odd trend is that in the two times he’s hoisted the Cup Series trophy in the end, he went winless in the 9 playoff races before.

Does he keep that occurrence going for a 3rd time?

I honestly feel like he can’t. Busch needs some positive momentum to go his way. He has just 2 top 10 finishes in his last 11 starts on the season. His last top 5 came way back on June 5 at World Wide Technology Raceway. His lone win was even a fluke.

Chase Briscoe ran Tyler Reddick deep in the third turn on the final lap back in April on Bristol Dirt. It allowed Busch to sneak by and lead the only lap he paced the field for all race — the last one.

He led for less than a football field that night. Think about that. If that doesn’t happen, Busch is the one on the outside looking in for this year’s playoffs.

Which is why I feel like he has to end this skid and get a win during this year’s playoffs or if not, it could be a short stay.

In Darlington earlier this year, he had a top 5 car before a crash not of his doing. He finished 33rd. He was 3rd however in Kansas then it’s to Bristol to where Busch is always at his best.

LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA – JULY 24: (L-R) Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 CommScope Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 DeWalt Toyota, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&Ms Toyota, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, talk backstage during driver intros prior to the NASCAR Cup Series M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 24, 2022 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Can Toyota Gain Enough Ground In Darlington, Kansas?

It’s no secret, the worst tracks on the 2022 season for the Toyota camp with this Next Gen are road courses and short tracks. If you look at the cut races this year, they’re on each. Bristol is normally a good spot for these Toyota drivers but this time around, they’re not expecting much.

Which is why I wonder if they can do good enough in the first two races this round to not have to worry as much at Bristol.

Toyota only has 3 playoff drivers. Busch was 33rd in Darlington and 3rd in Kansas this year. Denny Hamlin was 21st and 4th respectively in the same 2 races. Christopher Bell was 6th and 5th and is riding 4 top 8 finishes in his last 7 starts on the year.

Those Darlington finishes may not look great but all were running in the top 10 before getting collected in crashes. In fact, at one point in the final stage, Toyota’s had most of the top 5. Kansas they were dominant.

They need to replicate that speed early.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 27: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 ONX Homes/iFly Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Echopark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 27, 2022 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Is Trackhouse In Trouble?

For most of the season, the sneaky trendy pick to make a deep playoff run belonged to the Trackhouse Racing camp. Now, I wonder if they’re in trouble. Despite 3 combined wins between the pair of drivers, they’re backing their ways into the playoffs.

Ross Chastain’s last 6 finishes are 32nd, 27th, 24th, 18th, 21st and 33rd respectively. Daniel Suarez’ last 5 are 28th, 25th, 19th, 5th and 24th respectively himself.

At Darlington, they were actually pretty good. Chastain was 3rd in this race last year and was leading when he spun on the Turn 2 patch this past May. Suarez was 10th. For Kansas, Chastain was 7th. Suarez was 33rd.

Then it’s to Bristol to where you have to wonder if all those people that Chastain has pissed off along the way will try to cash in a payback.

It’s why I’m fearful that Trackhouse may not have both drivers advancing out of the opening round.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 06: Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 06, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Hendrick Motorsports

They’ve won each of the last 2 championships and feature the 2022 regular season champion this year. All 4 drivers make up the playoff field. However, how far can they go? Kyle Larson is the defending champion and has 3 top 7 finishes in his last 6 races. He won last year’s race at Bristol, was 2nd this past spring in Kansas and that comes after leading the most laps in the spring race there in 2021 and winning last year’s playoff race. At Darlington, he only finished 36th this past spring but also has finished runner-up in 3 of his last 4 Darlington starts including four top three’s in his last 5 tries and five in his last 7 Darlington tries in general.

Chase Elliott has 7 top 5’s in his last 10 tries, was 5th at Darlington this spring but 29th in Kansas. I think he’s got a good enough cushion on the field however to easily skate by this round.

It’s their 2 teammates that I’m worried about. William Byron was 13th and 16th respectively at these first two tracks this past spring and has no top 10’s in his last 10 starts and 1 in his last 18 overall. He’s not had a top 5 since that night he won Martinsville.

Alex Bowman was 29th and 9th at the same two tracks to go along with 1 top 10 finish in his last 12 starts and no top 5’s in his last 15.

HAMPTON, GEORGIA – JULY 10: William Byron, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #47 Kroger/Ball Park Chevrolet, and Tyler Reddick, driver of the #8 Alsco Uniforms Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 10, 2022 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Who Advances?

I think Denny Hamlin wins the Southern 500, Kyle Larson at Kansas and Kevin Harvick at Bristol. That’s 3 of the 12 spots taken. What about the other 9?

Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell get by easily. That leaves 5 spots left between William Byron, Alex Bowman, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez, Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Ryan Blaney.

Reddick was 2nd at Darlington earlier this year and comes into the race weekend off of a runner-up in Daytona. I think he gets by. That’s 4 spots left.

The bottom is hard because so many drivers are backing their ways in. Whom among these 8 gets by. There’s 4 spots for them. 4 make it, 4 don’t.

Blaney struggles at all 3 of these tracks.

Cindric has finished 12th or worse in 5 of his last 7. He was 18th and 11th in the 2 tracks back this past spring.

Briscoe has 5 straight finishes of 20th or worse including 0 top 10’s in his last 12. He was outside the top 20 in both of these tracks back in May.

Dillon has 1 top 5 in his last 16 starts and 2 top 10’s in his last 14.

Chastain’s last 6 finishes are all 18th or worse.

Suarez has 4 finishes of 19th or worse in his last 5.

Byron has no top 5’s in his last 18 and no top 10’s in his last 10.

Bowman has 1 top 10 in his last 12 and no top 5’s in his last 15.

Give me both Trackhouse cars, Dillon and Blaney eliminating: Byron, Bowman, Briscoe and Cindric.

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