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Drivers Feel The Pressure As Playoff Cutoff Nears
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is idle this week, but has reached crunch time as two races remain before the list of championship contenders is whittled down to 16 for the 10-race playoffs.
The series will visit Darlington on Sunday, Sept. 3 (NBC Sports Network, 5 p.m. CT), before heading to the cut-off race at Richmond on Saturday, Sept. 9 (NBCSN, 6:30 p.m. CT), that will set the field for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. The 10-race format includes a stop Sunday, Nov. 5, at Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500.
While some drivers such as Kyle Busch, who is coming off an impressive weekend sweep of all three NASCAR national series races at Bristol Motor Speedway, have secured a berth in the championship hunt, others remain fighting for their postseason lives.
Here’s a look at the drivers that are currently sitting on the playoff bubble and what they need to do to ensure their title hopes don’t end after 26 races of the regular season.
Drivers currently with a playoff berth as a result of winning a race: Martin Truex Jr. (4), Kyle Busch (2), Kyle Larson (3), Kevin Harvick (1), Denny Hamlin (1), Brad Keselowski (2), Jimmie Johnson (3), Ryan Blaney (1), Kurt Busch (1), Ryan Newman (1), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2), Kasey Kahne (1), Austin Dillon (1).
- Chase Elliott (+69 points): Elliott’s up-and-down season has him fighting for a spot in the postseason. While he sits comfortably in the playoff standings, Elliott’s 39th-place finish at Indianapolis put his team in a hole. Elliott and his Hendrick Motorsports team have responded with two top-10 finishes in the last four races.
- Matt Kenseth (+61 points): Kenseth is looking to make the playoffs in his last season with Joe Gibbs Racing. The organization announced last month that he would not return for the 2018 season, instead opting to bring in Erik Jones to pilot the No. 20 Toyota. He has rebounded from an early-season swoon to make a push for a victory in recent weeks. He finished runner-up at Watkins Glen and added a strong fourth-place finish last weekend at Bristol. He has four top-10 finishes in the last six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.
- Jamie McMurray (+58 points): McMurray is on the playoff bubble, but still holds a 58-point advantage. However, a win by one of the drivers behind him in the standings will leave him on the outside looking in. McMurray started the season strong with seven top-10 finishes in the first 12 races. In the last six races, however, he has only finished in the top 10 once.
Drivers on the outside of the playoff cutline:
- Clint Bowyer (-58 points): Bowyer, in his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, is in dire need of a victory to advance into the playoffs. The last five weeks have been a roller-coaster ride with two top-10 finishes and three finishes of 19th or worse, including 30th at Indianapolis. Bowyer has shown to be a contender for a victory this season with three runner-up finishes.
- Joey Logano (-117 points): Unless Logano earns a victory, he will find himself missing the playoffs. Logano did record a victory at Richmond in April, but during post-race inspection NASCAR discovered an issue with the rear suspension. The infraction prompted NASCAR to deny Logano an automatic playoff berth as a result of the victory. The last four weeks have been rough for the Team Penske driver, finishing 24th or worse in three of those races and a best finish of 13th at Bristol last week.
- Erik Jones (-126 points): Jones nearly found his way into the playoffs with a victory at Bristol. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie driver has proven to be a contender for victories in recent weeks. He finished third at his home track of Michigan and finished runner-up to Kyle Busch last weekend at Bristol. He has finished in the top 10 the last four races and could be a wild card to secure one of the 16 playoff spots. Jones has been bitten by bad luck this season with six races cut short as a result of accidents.
- Daniel Suarez (-163 points): Like Bowyer, Logano and Jones, Suarez needs a win to advance to the playoffs. He has shown progress in his rookie season after rebounding from a rocky start. He picked up a third-place finish at Watkins Glen – a career best for the Monterrey, Mexico native – but broke his momentum with a 37th-place finish at Michigan the following week.