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Playoff Owners’ Title Pursuit Ends for 45 and 48

The quest of bringing an owners’ championship for 23XI Racing ended at the Charlotte Roval Sunday. (Photo: Molly Gastineau | The Podium Finish)

CONCORD, N.C. – The buck about the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs typically ends with the drivers’ championship as its the main draw of the postseason.

However, the chaotic nature of this season’s Playoffs due to injuries led to two different title battles with the owners’ championship having contrasting standings.

After Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, 23XI Racing’s No. 45 and Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 48 teams failed to move onto the Round of 12.

To make it more chaotic, Hendrick’s No. 5 team moves into the Round of 8 while their driver Kyle Larson won’t repeat as Cup champion after missing the cutoff by two points over Chase Briscoe.

As if things couldn’t get more complicated, Team Penske’s No. 12 team missed the owners’ playoffs after the regular season finale at Daytona.

In this case, the highest that the No. 12 team can finish is 17th in owners points, even if Ryan Blaney goes on to prevail as champion next month at Phoenix Raceway.

It was a direct result of 23XI Racing’s No. 45 team winning a race at Kansas with Kurt Busch behind the wheel. Things took a sad turn following a qualifying crash at Pocono that resulted Busch being sidelined since then.

Additionally, with the No. 12 team being winless and Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet winning at Daytona, it marked 16 different cars winning in 26 races. While Busch wasn’t able to get back into the playoffs in time, changes where made in the No. 45 team.

Bubba Wallace, the main driver of the No. 23 Toyota, swapped rides with substitute driver Ty Gibbs for the Playoffs.

While it allowed Wallace to gain experience in the Playoffs, it gave him the chance to help the No. 45 team make it far in the Playoffs compared to the talented yet inexperienced Gibbs.

Kurt Busch has not made a Cup start since Loudon on July 17th. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

At the site of the No. 45 team’s win, Wallace got the job done at Kansas as he helped the team punched their ticket into the owner’s Round of 12.

Little did people know at the time that 23XI Racing wouldn’t be the only one who had to focus on the owners’ championship picture as Hendrick Motorsports faced a similar dilemma.

Following a crash at Texas Motor Speedway, Alex Bowman sustained a concussion and had to sit out both Talladega and the Charlotte ROVAL.

Therefore, Bowman’s quest for the championship was over. The same was not the case for the No. 48 team.

Noah Gragson, who currently leads the Xfinity Series in wins at seven, filled in for Bowman and fought hard to keep the team’s chances progressing in the owners’ title race.

Like Wallace for the No. 45 team, Gragson wasn’t able to keep the No. 48 alive in the title hunt as neither car teams will head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the Round of 8.

Both teams wound up being 27 and 53 points below eighth place respectively.

For Gragson, he was in the top 10 in the closing laps, but found himself in the path of mayhem. The soon-to-be full-time Cup driver was involved in some incidents that dashed any hope for the No. 48 team to continue fighting for the owners title.

Among the incidents included a late-race restart episode with Austin Cindric, who turned Gragson.

Saved by a caution and the season’s 14th red flag, Gragson would get collected in another incident and wound up crossing the line in 23rd.

For the second straight week, Noah Gragson filled in for Alex Bowman in the No. 48 Chevrolet. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

As for Wallace, not all optimism was lost as he finished seventh. He remained determined to provide continual, excellent results for the No. 45 squad.

“The car was somewhat in one piece. I made a mistake early on that really set us back. We were fighting hard for the owners deal and took ourselves out of getting points,” said Wallace in his post-race video. “But to come here with a top 10 is good. I just got to keep building the road course experience and keep on juggling along. Four (races) to go, let’s go get it.”

Sunday’s Roval finish marked Wallace’s third top-five since driving the No. 45 Toyota. (Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

After the owners’ points reset for those who’ve advanced into the Round of 8, the No. 45 sits ninth in points while the No. 48 now sits 13th with four races remaining.

The No. 5 team driven by Kyle Larson had issues in the ROVAL after making contact with the Turn 7 wall that set the team back five laps behind. After 112 grueling laps, Larson ended up 35th, five laps behind race winner Christopher Bell.

Despite the team still in the hunt for the owners’ championship, it didn’t matter much to Larson as his shot of going back-to-back was over.

Point blank, Larson admitted fault on the disappointing outcome and all he can do is race hard.

“There is no other person to blame than myself for today. I feel like our team put ourselves in a position as well as we could on points today,” said Larson. “We got as many stage points as we could and I think we were plus 27 or 28 at the time when I screwed up. Just for no reason either. I wasn’t even pushing all that hard at that moment. It got loose and caught me off guard.

“Just keep working on my craft, get better and make a lot less mistakes. Like I said, I made way too many mistakes this whole year and you can’t win a championship like that.”

With four races remaining, the No. 5 team are still in the hunt for their second straight owners’ title. (Photo: John Arndt | The Podium Finish)

With four races remaining, both championships’ Playoffs will have its own sets of chaos as Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas (Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) will mark the first opportunity for a driver or team to be championship bound at Phoenix (Sunday, Nov. 6 at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC).

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR, INDYCAR and ARCA. Content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going. I've dealt with several challenges in my life, such as autism and making most out of trips despite relying on transportation. Even my quest of finding acceptance in my profession which has been my biggest challenge since graduating from college in 2016. Despite those hurdles with Motorsports Tribune and now The Podium Finish, I promise that you'll see excellence with my content. With two National Motorsports Press Association photography awards, I'm not slowing down anytime soon. Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to HAIM. Not only that, expect my social media filled with references nobody will understand, especially Licorice Pizza.

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