NASCAR: 3 drivers most likely to drop out of the playoff picture

NASCAR (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
NASCAR (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images) /
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Chris Buescher, NASCAR
Chris Buescher, Roush Fenway Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Looking at the current playoff picture for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, which three drivers are most likely to drop out of the top 16?

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season has begun with a string of four unexpected winners, including just one of last year’s playoff drivers. None of the four winners are drivers who finished in the top 10 in last season’s championship standings, something that hadn’t happened since 1970.

Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell got his first career win in his 358th career start, the second highest start total for any first-time winner, in the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell became the second first-time winner through two races, something that hadn’t happened since 1950, when he won at the Daytona International Speedway road course in his 38th career start.

Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron, who entered the season with one win in 108 starts, then won at Homestead-Miami Speedway, meaning that the first three winners entered the year with only one combined win. That number has only ever been zero entering the inaugural season in 1949.

And most recently, Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson, who missed the last 32 races of the 2020 season after being fired by Chip Ganassi Racing, won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his first win since October 2019, second win since the end of the 2017 regular season and seventh career win.

So the playoff picture already does not look much like it looked last season. But which three drivers currently in the top 16 are most likely to drop out?

Drivers most likely to drop out of the playoffs: #1 – Chris Buescher

Roush Fenway Racing’s Chris Buescher is naturally the most vulnerable driver currently in the top 16 in the point standings in 16th place. He has never made it to the playoffs on points, and it doesn’t look likely for that to change in this year.

He sits just two points ahead of 17th place Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and two of last year’s playoff drivers, Alex Bowman and Cole Custer, sit in 18th and 19th, respectively, but would be quite a bit higher if not for late flat tires in the last two races (Custer at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Bowman at Las Vegas Motor Speedway).

Buescher has yet to record a top 10 finish this season, and 15 of his 90 total points were earned in the first two stages at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He could only manage a 19th place finish in that race after fading in the third stage. Don’t be surprised to see him in a must-win situation toward the end of the regular season.