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.
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.
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Playoff Outlook – Top 20
|1) Kyle Busch||851 points||In on wins|
|2) Joey Logano||838 points||In on wins|
|3) Kevin Harvick||777 points||In on wins|
|4) Denny Hamlin||771 points||In on wins|
|5) Martin Truex Jr.||753 points||In on wins|
|6) Brad Keselowski||728 points||In on wins|
|7) Kurt Busch||679 points||In on wins|
|8) Chase Elliott||676 points||In on wins|
|9) Alex Bowman||623 points||In on wins|
|10) Aric Almirola||640 points||96 above cutline|
|11) Ryan Blaney||633 points||89 over cutline|
|12) William Byton||604 points||60 over cutline|
|13) Erik Jones||598 points||54 over cutline|
|14) Kyle Larson||590 points||46 over cutline|
|15) Clint Bowyer||556 points||12 over cutline|
|16) Jimmie Johnson||544 points||0|
|17) Ryan Newman||544 points||0|
|18) Daniel Suarez||521 points||23 below cutline|
|19) Paul Menard||483 points||61 below cutline|
|20) Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||466 points||78 below cutline|