On the surface it seems like a simple formula. Win a race and you’re in the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Playoffs. And the three competitors closest to the 16-driver Playoff cutoff mark would insist that’s been their plan all year. Planning and executing are two different things, however.
All three of those drivers on the verge of Playoff standing – Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman – have won before at this week’s venue, Michigan International Speedway. With only four races remaining before the Playoffs begin, victory has never been more crucial and race management top priority.
Raising a trophy following Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) would not only be a saving grace but a huge motivator going forward for these three drivers in particular, with the 10-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs beginning Sept. 15 in Las Vegas.
Bowyer, the driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford visited Michigan’s Victory Lane most recently among the three – winning the rain-shortened 2018 early summer race. Johnson, the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, won there in 2014. And Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 6 Roush-Fenway Ford, won back-to-back in 2003-04.
Bowyer is ranked 15th and holds a 12-point edge over Johnson and Newman, who are tied in the standings. Johnson is in the 16th – and final Playoff position – because he has posted the highest finish between himself and Newman.
At the series’ first Michigan race in June, Newman posted the best finish (eighth) among the three drivers. Bowyer has the most recent win and the seven-time Cup champion Johnson has led the most laps (700) in the field.
Bowyer brings some positive momentum to the Michigan weekend with a sixth-place finish at Kentucky and an 11th-place finish at Pocono prior to his frustrating 20th place showing at The Glen on Sunday.
Johnson picked up some important stage points last week at Watkins Glen before being spun out late in the race and settling for a 20th-place finish. He earned top-fives at Chicago (fourth) and Daytona (fifth) in July, but hasn’t had a top-10 in the four races since.
Newman is coming off his worst finish of the season – 25th at Watkins Glen. He has three top 10 efforts in the last five races, however, including a best of fifth at Daytona in July. The two-time Michigan winner has a pair of top-10 finishes in the last four races at the track and a fourth place in this race in 2017 is his best result since his 2004 win.
“There’s pressure in everything you do in this sport and that’s kind of the way we like it,” Bowyer said. “That’s what makes it fun. We are getting to the point in the season when the pay window is starting to open and it’s go-time. That’s when it’s fun for the drivers, teams and especially the fans. As the tension goes up, the sport gets more and more interesting.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!