BUBBLE WATCH: AS END OF REGULAR SEASON NEARS, WHICH DRIVERS NEED A WIN TO GET IN?
Saturday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway will mark the halfway point in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. And with just nine races remaining on the regular season docket, there are still plenty of questions that remain to be answered before the playoffs begin on Sept. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
With three drivers combining for 13 wins through the first 17 races, and just six different pilots visiting Victory Lane in total, there will be plenty of opportunities for drivers earn their way into the playoffs via a victory or consistent racing over the next two-and-a-half months.
Let’s take a look at some drivers that are currently on the playoff bubble and what it will take to ensure themselves a spot in the postseason:
- Jimmie Johnson – Twelfth in points entering Saturday night’s race at Daytona, Johnson is in good position to make the playoff in spite of an uncharacteristically lackluster season thus far. With just six top-10s, including two top-fives, Johnson’s most surprising statistic is the No. 2. As in, two laps led. All season. Wow. That all said Johnson’s going to do enough to get in without a win. What he does once he’s in, however, is anyone’s guess.
- Chase Elliott – Like Johnson, Elliott has struggled to find consistency as most of the Hendrick Motorsports camp continues to learn and develop the new Chevy Camaro. Sitting 13th, Elliott needs to avoid bad points days like he had at Daytona (33rd), Las Vegas (34th), Bristol (29th) and Chicagoland (19th). If he can do that, he should be able to sneak in sans victory.
- Erik Jones – Back-to-back top-10 finishes has Jones back in the mix following a very rough stretch that saw him finish inside the top-10 just once in his previous eight starts, dating back to April 16 at Bristol. While 2018 appears to be a sophomore slump, Jones is actually trending a bit better than his rookie season. A win would be huge, but if Jones continues to trend like he has recently, he’ll get in without a win.
- Alex Bowman – Like Jones, Bowman has been moving in the right direction and has begun to show some speed over the last month. With three top-10s in his last five starts (he has six all season), Bowman might be able to sneak his way up the standings without a visit to Victory Lane.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – With two wins and his first trip to the postseason, 2017 was a breakout year for Stenhouse Jr. Ironically, while 2018 appears to be a step backwards for the Roush Fenway pilot, he’s actually led more laps already this year (59) than he did all of last year (56). As the defending champion of this weekend’s race at Daytona, Stenhouse Jr. could stamp his ticket to the playoffs Saturday night. No matter what, though, it’s likely going to take a win for him to get in.
- Paul Menard – The veteran driver isn’t quite having the same success as Ryan Blaney did in the same Wood Brothers Racing ride last year. But he’s not far off. Blaney finished last year with 14 top-10s, including four top-fives and a win to go along with a 17.2 average finish. Menard has four top-10s with one top-five, and while he’s yet to visit Victory Lane, his 18.0 average finishing position shows they’re right on par. That win is crucial, though, and will be the difference in making the playoffs.
- Daniel Suarez – Simply put, he needs a win to get in.
- Austin Dillon – He’s in thanks to his victory in the Daytona 500.
- Jamie McMurray – No win. No playoffs.