And then there were 12.
The second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begins with Sunday’s AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway, starting at 3:30 p.m. You can watch it on the USA Network, stream it on NBCSports.com or listen to it on PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR.
Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know before Sunday’s playoff race.
NASCAR mourns passing of Sherry Pollex
The NASCAR world awoke last Sunday morning to the news that Sherry Pollex, former partner of Martin Truex Jr. with deep roots in the sport, died of ovarian cancer at age 44.
Pollex was known for her philanthropic efforts, including the annual Catwalk for a Cause in Statesville with Truex’s foundation. She was unable to attend the 2023 edition held last Wednesday but received a standing ovation when the event’s co-hosts lauded her as “an absolute hero.”
“NASCAR is saddened to learn of the passing of Sherry Pollex, whose fight against cancer and determination to help others through the Sherry Strong Foundation was an inspiration to all who knew her,” the league wrote in its statement. “NASCAR and the NASCAR Foundation’s thoughts and prayers are with Sherry’s family and friends.”
Pollex’s father, Greg, owned the former NASCAR team “ppc Racing,” which competed in all three series from 1993-2007 and won the 2000 Busch (now Xfinity) Series championship.
Multiple former champions eliminated
We won’t have a repeat Cup winner this year — defending champion Joey Logano didn’t advance after wrecking out at Bristol. Kevin Harvick, the 2014 champion, was also eliminated, as was Michael McDowell and Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
William Byron, who boasts a field-best five wins, is tied with regular-season champion Martin Truex Jr. for the most points heading into the Round of 12. Truex faced elimination after hitting the wall in Lap 4 at Kansas but rebounded with a solid run at Bristol to stay in contention.
Ross Chastain (3 points below the cutline), Brad Keselowski (-3), Ryan Blaney (-6) and Bubba Wallace (-14) now hold the bottom four positions in the Cup standings, with a trio of Round of 12 races — Texas, Talladega and the Charlotte Roval — before the next elimination.
Byron and Truex are both 25 points above that elimination line, followed by Bristol winner Denny Hamlin (+21), Kyle Larson (+12) and Chris Buescher (+10).
NASCAR launching mobile game
You may soon be able to race with NASCAR drivers on your phone.
As it continues looking to expand its global audience, NASCAR announced Wednesday it is teaming up with Hutch, which has developed F1 Clash and Top Drives. They’ll be creating a standalone mobile game, which will be “fully revealed in due course,” that hopes to leverage Hutch’s global audience to promote the unique elements of NASCAR racing.
“At NASCAR, our No. 1 priority is engaging our fans and bringing them the best experiences possible whether they’re at the track or in digital spaces where they like to spend time,” Nick Rend, NASCAR’s managing director of gaming and esports, said in a release. “We want to deliver our fans around the world a unique, immersive mobile gaming experience. Hutch, with its expertise in the automotive genre and track record of creating fun and popular games, is the perfect partner to make this happen.”
Drivers could be able to control their own destiny at Texas
Texas is a track that should favor some of the playoff drivers, like Kyle Busch, who’s won four times there.
Kansas winner Tyler Reddick won this race last year, as a non-playoff driver. Ryan Blaney has finished in the Top 10 in eight of his past nine races at Texas, including his past five, along with having wins at Talladega and the Roval as well.
Talladega, a superspeedway, could be more favorable for drivers like Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski, especially after the RFK Racing drivers’ 1-2 finish at Daytona, and make Texas end up being more important for certain drivers to maximize stage points.
Hamlin, Larson, Reddick are the favorites
Denny Hamlin, who has three wins and 15 Top 10 finishes in 32 starts at Texas, opens as the favorite at +500, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, followed by recent Texas winners Kyle Larson (+550) and Tyler Reddick (+700). Fellow regular-season standouts William Byron (+750) and Martin Truex Jr. (+750) round out the top five.
How to watch the NASCAR Playoffs at Texas
Race: AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400
Place: Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth, Texas)
Date: Sunday, Sept. 24
Time: 3:30 p.m.
TV: USA Network
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps)
Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80; Stage 2 ends on Lap 165; and the Final Stage ends on Lap 267.