NASCAR playoff subject coming into focus with 4 races left

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports activities NASCAR Author

For many who do not like math, the NASCAR playoff qualification system tends to create loads of complications.

However with 4 races left within the common season — Michigan (2-mile oval), Richmond (0.75-mile oval), Watkins Glen (highway course) and Daytona (2.5-mile drafting oval) — issues are beginning to look pretty clear. And that is not only for these jockeying to get into the playoffs.

The NASCAR playoff subject consists of 16 drivers — the regular-season champion after which 15 winners based mostly on variety of wins with the ties damaged by factors. If there are extra winners than spots, then regular-season factors standing is the tiebreaker amongst these with only one win.

So far as the regular-season title goes, Chase Elliott (who has 4 wins) has a 125-point edge on Ryan Blaney and a 129-point edge on Ross Chastain. So Elliott has just about locked it up as Blaney, who’s averaging 31.6 factors a race, almost definitely will not be going to common 31 factors higher than Elliott over the ultimate 4 races.

Ryan Blaney on winless season thus far

Ryan Blaney on winless season so far

Ryan Blaney sits within the precarious place of being excessive within the NASCAR Cup standings however nonetheless winless on the season.

So far as the variety of winners, there have been 14 (together with Elliott). If the playoffs ended at the moment, Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. would have the 2 spots remaining based mostly on factors. The subsequent winless driver is Kevin Harvick, who’s 96 factors behind Truex — one other margin that will be tough to beat and not using a win.

So it is Blaney and Truex who nonetheless have an opportunity to get in on factors. But it surely’s removed from assured.

Blaney and Truex both have to win or hope that there are not any extra new winners. If there’s one new winner within the subsequent 4 races (and it isn’t Blaney nor Truex), then solely certainly one of them would make the playoffs. Blaney at the moment has a 25-point edge on Truex, which is not all that snug with 4 races to go and the potential for at the very least one new winner.

“The easiest but hardest thing to do is win, and I could stop talking about it,” Blaney stated. “However we have been attempting all 12 months.

“Hopefully, we are able to get it finished and never have to fret about it. However you simply need to be behind your head of realizing that you simply’re nonetheless points-racing Martin. … You do not wish to be on the bubble if there is not any new winners, and clearly you wish to try to win the race, so it is a balancing act.”

Truex nearly won at New Hampshire but a decision for two fresh tires late in the race instead of four foiled a dominant performance.

“It’s what it’s,” Truex said last month prior to the race at Pocono. “We’ve got been attempting to win all 12 months. We have been shut. We have been working higher recently, main extra laps recently.

“We don’t change what we do. … Had we put four tires on [at New Hampshire], we wouldn’t be talking about this conversation right now. But that’s racing. And that’s how things go.”

Martin Truex Jr. on his playoff possibilities

Martin Truex Jr. on his playoff chances

If Martin Truex Jr. is nervous about making the playoffs, he isn’t displaying it as he joked round when requested about it.

There was solely two new winners prior to now six races (and three new winners prior to now 9), so even with the highway course of Watkins Glen and the unpredictable drafting race within the regular-season finale at Daytona, there in all probability can be just one or two new winners at most within the subsequent 4 races.

“As of right now, we’re in,” Truex stated. “So there’s no reason to be nervous. We need to do our jobs, try to win. And if we can’t win, stack up all the points we can.”

However what if there are three new winners? That may create a situation for the primary time (this format was applied in 2014) the place a driver with a win wouldn’t make the playoffs.

These with two or extra wins — Elliott, Chastain, Joey Logano, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Denny Hamlin — are locked into the playoffs.

Kurt Busch, who will miss his third consecutive race this weekend resulting from a concussion, is at the moment the bottom among the many eight drivers with one win and could be in jeopardy if there are extra winners than spots.

Amongst these with one win, three can breathe comparatively simply: Kyle Larson (182 factors forward of Kurt Busch), Christopher Bell (+155) and Kyle Busch (+148).

The opposite 5 drivers with at the very least one win nonetheless want to look at how issues play out, and everybody apart from Busch principally simply must keep away from a disastrous race or two that will put them in jeopardy of falling behind him.

Alex Bowman is at the moment 56 factors forward of Busch and is adopted by Daniel Suárez (+50), Austin Cindric (+45) and Chase Briscoe (+25).

All of them will clearly put extra distance between themselves and Busch with Kurt lacking Michigan this weekend. But when for some purpose there are 4 consecutive new winners to make 18 complete winners — unlikely however nonetheless doable — it might be a extra heated battle to get in on factors.

“If I would have won Charlotte or won Bristol, then you’re not even talking about this,” stated Briscoe, lamenting over some late-race strikes that did not work.

“There’s a lot of times where I’ve [lost] a lot of points over the last two or three months. Really, we probably shouldn’t be in this spot, but I’ve kind of put ourselves here.”

Chase Briscoe on being on the playoff bubble

Chase Briscoe on being on the playoff bubble

Chase Briscoe blames himself for being on the playoff bubble because the one-win driver with the fewest factors this 12 months.

Suárez stated his staff is not speaking about whether or not they are going to get within the playoffs however on how they’re going to strategy the playoffs.

“I had a meeting with my team about having the mindset that we’re already in the playoffs, so that we can be in that rhythm once we get into the playoffs with momentum and everything,” he stated.

For drivers exterior the top-10 in factors who haven’t got a win, they not solely have to fret about getting one win to qualify for the playoffs however then additionally presumably being on the bubble if there are extra winners than spots.

Bubba Wallace, who sits twentieth within the total standings and is 27 factors behind teammate Kurt Busch, is aware of a win may not assure him a spot.

“Even if we get one win and still get bumped out of the playoffs, we have a win,” Wallace stated.

“We know we can do it. We have a team capable of doing it. … [This scenario] puts the emphasis back on the beginning of the season and how we missed some opportunities.”

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What to look at for

NASCAR wasn’t positive previous to the season whether or not it might use the 670 horsepower bundle with a brief spoiler or the 510 horsepower bundle with the large spoiler (the Superspeedway bundle) on the 2-mile Michigan Worldwide Speedway.

After what it noticed at Auto Membership Speedway in February, how properly the Subsequent Gen automotive raced there at 670hp and the speeds not being so quick that the vehicles had been uncontrollable, NASCAR opted to go together with the upper horsepower.

Meaning it probably will not be pack racing like Atlanta. However there nonetheless can be drafting and potential slingshot passes, which Michigan has had its justifiable share of over the previous a number of years.

Drivers prior to now couple of weeks nonetheless appeared somewhat mystified about what sort of racing will happen at MIS. The tires might be a difficulty, too, as it is a new development designed for extra stability.

So what to look at for? How drivers react and adapt all through the race relying on the way it performs out.

Pondering out loud

Chris Buescher stayed in his automotive at Indianapolis whereas there was {an electrical} fireplace, one other time this 12 months when a driver stayed within the automotive when everybody watching would assume he wanted to evacuate.

Why would a driver keep within the automotive? One of many causes probably is the rule that when a driver will get out of a automotive, the driving force is out of the race. Buescher knew the automotive would possibly nonetheless be drivable, so he needed to inhale all the hearth extinguisher chemical compounds whereas additionally in an unsafe state of affairs.

NASCAR should have a look at this rule. A driver ought to be allowed to get out throughout a hearth after which get again in if the automotive continues to be operational. It simply does not make sense for a driver to have an incentive to remain within the automotive when it’s on fireplace.

Social highlight

They stated it

“I personally think the sport needs more penalties and that NASCAR needs to be handing them out like candy right now to get control of the garage, because we’ve been playing a lot of games for a lot of years. And the games have to stop. The games cost a lot of money.” Brad Keselowski

Bob Pockrass has spent a long time overlaying motorsports, together with the previous 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports activities in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting Information, NASCAR Scene journal and The (Daytona Seaside) Information-Journal. Observe him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. In search of extra NASCAR content material? Join the FOX Sports activities NASCAR E-newsletter with Bob Pockrass!

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