Playoff Bubble Bouncing Around

Alex Bowman

With eight races remaining in the regular season, the seven drivers (Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman) have secured a Playoff position on wins.

Which leaves nine spots open for new winners or for drivers to earn their way in on points.

If the Playoffs were to start today, those drivers would be Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman. Daniel Suarez (17th) and Erik Jones (18th) are the first two drivers on the outside looking in.

Only 14 points separate 15th (Bowyer with 444 points) and 18th (Jones with 430 points) after Daytona. To show how much of an impact one race can have on the Playoff bubble, following Chicagoland, the rankings were Suarez, Bowyer, Jones and Newman in slots 15 through 18, in that order.

And to go back one more week to Sonoma, 15 through 18 consisted of Larson, Newman, Johnson and Jones – in that order.

Looking ahead to the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway this Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), each of the former active winners at the track have already won in 2019. And the drivers on the bubble have their work cut out for them.

Newman leads the bubble drivers with three top-five (and top-10) finishes at the 1.5-mile venue. Bowyer has only one top-five finish (and it’s also his only top 10) at the 1.5-mile venue. Jones has two top 10s (sixth and seventh) while Suarez has yet to crack the top 10 at Kentucky, posting finishes of 15th (last year) and 18th in his two starts.

A driver of note outside the top 16 who pretty much needs to win to get in to the Playoffs is Austin Dillon. He has the most Playoff appearances (three) of any driver outside the top 16 right now, and is looking to extend his Playoff appearance streak to four years, after making it to the postseason in 2016-2018. He sits 77 points back of the 16th-place cutoff spot. But he’s going to have to improve his Kentucky performance tremendously if he’s going to get in on a win in the Bluegrass State. In six starts there, he has twice posted a best finish of 16th – and has tallied an average finish of 20.3.

Jones (2018), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (made the Playoffs in 2017, currently 19th in points, 45 points out of 16th), Paul Menard (made the Playoffs in 2015, currently 20th in points, 53 points back) and Chris Buescher (made the Playoffs in 2016, currently 21st in points, 74 points out of Playoff contention) are the only other drivers with postseason experience who are currently out of the Playoff picture.

Summertime Sizzle: Hendrick heating up at opportune time

Talks of Hendrick Motorsports’ decline came a little too soon. The storied organization is beginning to hit its stride as the NASCAR season heads into the depths of summer.

Right now, Hendrick is led by Chase Elliott, who’s seventh in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings. The 23-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia, native claims one win this season, along with six top fives, seven top 10s and 409 laps led. He’s struggled over the last four races, failing to notch a top 10 after tallying six consecutive top fives, but heads to Kentucky where he has a high finish of third (three career starts).

Alex Bowman sits ninth in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings and has performed well at 1.5-mile tracks recently, including his win at Chicagoland less than two weeks ago. Prior to Chicagoland, he placed seventh at Charlotte and runner-up at Kansas. Bowman has never placed higher than 31st at Kentucky (three starts).

William Byron sits 12th in the points standings following his runner-up finish at Daytona. The 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion is showing he belongs at the Monster Energy Cup level with four top 10s in his last six starts. Byron placed 20th in his lone Cup start at Kentucky last season and boasts a NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series win at the 1.5-mile track.

Following talks of his decline, seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson has posted finishes of third (Daytona) and fourth (Chicagoland) in his last two starts. He currently sits 13th in the points standings, 34 points above the Playoffs cutoff. In eight career starts at Kentucky, Johnson claims one top five and five top 10s with a high finish of third (2011). He’s finished eighth or better in his last four starts at 1.5-mile tracks: Chicagoland (fourth), Charlotte (eighth), Kansas (sixth), Texas (fifth).

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

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