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While Alex Bowman theoretically can transfer into the semifinal round of the Cup Series playoffs despite passing up racing at Talladega this weekend, that’s at best a secondary concern for the 29-year-old driver, his team, and NASCAR.

The sport now has two competitors on the shelf because of concussions. Kurt Busch bowed out of the playoffs because of lingering effects after his crash during qualifying at Pocono. Now, Bowman is all but eliminated because of his crash at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend.

Alex Bowman can still advance in the NASCAR playoffs, but the odds are slim

Alex Bowman revealed on Thursday that he will miss this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway because of a concussion suffered in last weekend’s crash. Hendrick Motorsports announced Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 Chevy on Sunday.

NASCAR has granted Bowman a waiver that keeps him eligible to advance to the next round of the playoffs. However, he will have to compete the following week on the Charlotte road course and will almost certainly have to win to advance.

Even if he were able to compete this weekend, Bowman would be starting deep in the hole. Finishing 29th at Texas Motor Speedway, five laps behind the leaders after crashing on Lap 98, left him in last place among the remaining 12 playoff drivers.

He is 26 points below the cut line already. Barring extraordinary events at Talladega, Bowman will almost certainly be at least 35 points underwater should he be able to compete at the Roval.

Hendrick Motorsports suffers its second blow of the week

Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman speaks with reporters during the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Media Day at Charlotte Convention Center on Sept. 1, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman speaks with reporters during the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Media Day at Charlotte Convention Center on Sept. 1, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The week began with three of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers above the cut line one race into the current round of the Cup Series playoffs. By mid-week, William Byron had been stripped of 25 points for his actions during a caution at Texas Motor Speedway. That dropped him below the cut line with Alex Bowman.

Hendrick Motorsports has announced it is appealing Byron’s penalty. Realistically, the best the team can hope for is to have the penalty reduced by a few points. In any case, Byron at least will have two races to get back into the top eight and transfer into the next phase.

Byron finished 15th in the regular-season race at Talladega. A comparable day on Sunday would keep him in the mix ahead of the following week’s race at the Roval.

Meanwhile, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott, the last two Cup Series champions, stand third and seventh, respectively, in playoff points.

NASCAR has a problem beyond Alex Bowman’s concussion


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Even during the late testing phases of the Next Gen car, drivers expressed concerns about the model adopted for the 2022 season. One recurring theme of the season has been complaints that the “crush zones” of the Gen 6 car have gone away; the Next Gen car is too indestructible, and seemingly every hit absorbed feels harder than in years past, drivers say.

Kurt Busch has missed a third of the season because of the concussion suffered at Pocono, Denny Hamlin passed up a recent Xfinity Series race because he was too sore from a wreck the previous Sunday, and now Alex Bowman is missing a crucial playoff race.

Coupled with racing issues – passing on short tracks is tougher than passing high school calculus – and repeated issues of all sorts with wheels, NASCAR is facing a ton of backlash from drivers concerned over safety, owners who were promised a less-expensive car, and fans bored by too many laps run under caution.

This weekend’s story should be about the playoff battle, but safety has moved to the forefront and will dominate the pre-race. The only job in sports more awkward than touting safety in the Cup Series right now might be explaining how the NFL concussion protocol worked out for Tua Tagovailoa on Thursday in Cincinnati.

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