Playoffs – Who’s in, who’s out, with 4 to go

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Michigan International Speedway this weekend with only four races remaining in the regular season.

There are currently nine contenders who have won this year and are locked into the Playoffs which will consist of 16 drivers. They include Kyle Busch (4 wins), Joey Logano (2 wins), Kevin Harvick (1 win), Denny Hamlin (3 wins), Martin Truex Jr. (4 wins), Brad Keselowski (3 wins), Kurt Busch (1 win), Chase Elliott (2 wins) and Alex Bowman (1 win).

This leaves seven spots up for grabs. In the unlikely event that the final four races are won by drivers who have not already been to victory lane, that will leave a minimum of three drivers who can advance to the Playoffs based on points.

The drivers who are in the most precarious positions include Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer, Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson and Roush-Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman.

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Johnson and Newman are tied in the standings with 544 points each after last week’s race at Watkins Glen. Johnson, however, wins the tiebreaker for the final spot in the Playoffs with a best finish of third this year while Newman’s best finish was fifth.

Clint Bowyer is ranked 15th, only 12 points ahead of Johnson and Newman.

Bowyer won at Michigan in June 2018 but it was the only top-10 he has earned in his last eight starts. He is, however, off to a good start this week after qualifying fifth for Sunday’s race, and says it’s “go time.”

“There’s pressure in everything you do in this sport and that’s kind of the way we like it. 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.”

Johnson won at Michigan in 2014 and also has five top-five and 13 top-10 finishes at the 2-mile track with a sixth-best driver rating of  94.3. He qualified 10th for the Consumers Energy 400.

As each week passes, the pressure mounts for the seven-time champ who has never missed the postseason playoffs since the format was implemented in 2004.

“Our season is on the line right now with these next four weeks,” Johnson said.

Newman has been to victory lane twice at Michigan, in 2003 and 2004, and he finished eighth in the June race at Michigan this season. After qualifying 20th, he will face a tough battle this weekend but he has no intention of giving up.

“If I thought that I wasn’t capable of winning at each race track I go to, I wouldn’t show up,” Newman told NASCAR.com.  

As time runs out each position earned and each stage point gained will become more crucial as they battle for the chance to compete for the coveted Cup Series championship title. Be sure to tune in as the action intensifies with one goal – win and you’re in.

Follow @angiecampbell_ for the latest NASCAR news and feature stories.

Playoff Outlook – Top 20

1) Kyle Busch851 pointsIn on wins
2) Joey Logano838 pointsIn on wins
3) Kevin Harvick777 pointsIn on wins
4) Denny Hamlin771 pointsIn on wins
5) Martin Truex Jr.753 pointsIn on wins
6) Brad Keselowski728 pointsIn on wins
7) Kurt Busch679 pointsIn on wins
8) Chase Elliott676 pointsIn on wins
9) Alex Bowman623 pointsIn on wins
10) Aric Almirola640 points96 above cutline
11) Ryan Blaney633 points89 over cutline
12) William Byton604 points60 over cutline
13) Erik Jones598 points54 over cutline
14) Kyle Larson590 points46 over cutline
15) Clint Bowyer556 points12 over cutline
16) Jimmie Johnson544 points0
17) Ryan Newman544 points0
18) Daniel Suarez521 points23 below cutline
19) Paul Menard483 points61 below cutline
20) Ricky Stenhouse Jr.466 points78 below cutline

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