Torey Fox | NASCAR Digital Media
BRISTOL, Tenn. — William Byron overcame the second-largest points deficit in elimination-era history Saturday night to advance in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
In order to move on from the Round of 16, Byron needed to make up 18 points on the cutline during Saturday night’s elimination race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The largest deficit was 22 points in 2019 (Chase Elliott, Round of 12).
Bryon was 15th in the standings before the green flag, three spots outside of the 12-driver safety net. He left the Tennessee short track eighth in the standings – a ticket to the Round of 12 in hand.
“Honestly,” Byron said, “I don’t think I breathed for 100 laps. I was honestly just trying to go as hard as I could.”
A third-place finish sealed the deal for the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team, but a pair of top-10 finishes in the stages (10th in the first, fourth in the second) really saved Byron’s title chances. He tallied 42 points total and qualified for the next round by a mere two points.
Mirroring Byron’s two points but on the opposite side of the elimination line, both Aric Almirola and Tyler Reddick fell short of advancement by two points apiece.
“I can’t blame it on tonight,” Almirola said. “There were plenty of opportunities throughout the first two races where we gave up some points as well, so I can find two points in a lot of different places. So, just frustrated.”
Almirola ended his playoff run with an 18th-place result. He was not within the top 10 in either stage, his night partially hampered by an oil leak midway through Stage 2. The 19 points for his overall finish were all he earned.
Reddick, meanwhile, checked in 12th at the checkered flag, earning 25 points. He was also ninth in Stage 2 to gain an additional two points.
“It kind of all adds up,” Reddick said. “For us to miss it by two and run the way we did isn’t a surprise.”
Reddick entered Saturday’s race already in danger. He was five points outside the playoff picture in 14th.
Almirola, however, was safe in 11th by three points. His ticker went from green to red.
“I mean, our season as a whole was not what we wanted,” Almirola said. “We went to Loudon and pulled out a win, which was awesome, and then just kind of had a renewed sense of energy going into the playoffs and thought we were going to do everything we needed to do in this first round to transfer to the next round. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out.”
That victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway back in July is the reason Almirola qualified for the playoffs field in the first place. He was 27th in the standings at the time, basically in a must-win situation if he wanted to even have a shot at the championship.
Reddick made his playoffs debut by virtue of his place in the standings, originally making it by 30 points.
Regardless of their status, the season continues Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“Winners never quit,” Reddick said. “Hopefully one day the right break will come our way. We continue to learn and get better even though we didn’t make it through to the Round of 12.”