2020 Cup Playoff outlook after Michigan doubleheader

The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series regular season is nearing its conclusion following an eventful weekend doubleheader at Michigan International Speedway and with the Playoffs weeks away from being set and commencing.

With a pair of victories on back-to-back dates at the Irish Hills added to his resume and long list of accomplishments, Kevin Harvick continues his quest for a second Cup championship. Including Harvick, 10 competitors have been guaranteed a spot in the Playoffs by virtue of winning throughout the previous 22 regular-season races, among which continues to include Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon and rookie Cole Custer.

With four regular-season races remaining until the 2020 postseason field is set, six of the 16-postseason field spots remain vacant with multiple top names either on the bubble or still on the outside.


American Muscle

Currently, Aric Almirola and the Busch brothers (Kyle and Kurt) continue to remain in decent shape of making the Playoffs by points. Almirola rallied from finishing 16th on Saturday, August 8, to collect a handful of stage points, lead a handful of laps and post a top-10 run on Sunday, August 9, at Michigan as he is 158 points above the top-16 cutline. Kyle Busch, on the other hand, posted two top-five results in both races along with a chunk load of stage points to place himself 140 points above the cutline and with an opportunity of defending his series title.

Kurt Busch concluded his runs at Michigan by scoring a pair of 10th-place results and gaining a chunk load of stage points towards the postseason. With the 2004 Cup champion tallying his top-10 results to 14 this season, he and his No. 1 Monster Energy/Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team are 137 points above the cutline as he also looks to win a race for the first time since last July at Kentucky Speedway.

“We covered a lot of ground with the Monster Energy Chevy,” Kurt Busch said on NBCSN. “Both days were a hard-fought battle, a little loose here, a little tight there, lane choice and then, pit stops. We did it as a team, but it was like yesterday, we had a seventh-place car. Today, we had a 13th-place car and finished 10th on both days. Thanks to Monster Energy and Chevy. We know what we need to get our cars more efficient. We need to be a little bit better down the straightaway and still have that handling. This seems like we’re up against this imagery bubble and with [teammate Matt] Kenseth getting better, that’ll help us…working with Hendrick [Motorsports] and trying to get the horsepower right, all of its a balance. Jim Campbell, Chevrolet, thanks to those guys. But, we just didn’t get it done here at Michigan.”

For Clint Bowyer, it was an up-and-down weekend that ended up with a decent result approaching the final four regular-season races of this season. After finishing 19th on Saturday, Bowyer started Sunday on fire after leading the first 40 laps and winning the first stage. Throughout the second stage, he did not lead but he remained inside the top 10 and finished fifth to gain more stage points. For the early stages of the final stage, however, Bowyer’s race went backwards when he made an unscheduled pit stop after suffering a tire rub. He was able to quickly work his way back on the lead lap and from there, he charged his way back to finish 14th. With his 11th top-15 finish of this season, the Kansas native and his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang team are 60 points above the cutline.

Like Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto had an eventful weekend at Michigan that started with a 15th-place result on Saturday and ended up with a strong top-10 result (seventh) on Sunday. With his seventh top-10 result of the season, the Californian and his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Mustang team are 57 points above the cutline as DiBenedetto attempts to make his first postseason appearance as a title contender.

“The ole car had its tongue hanging out all day,” DiBenedetto said on NBCSN. “It still wasn’t pretty. I’m glad to have driven this car. It looked good. Thank you to all of our Ford auto technicians, Motorcraft, Quicklane, Menards, everyone that allows me to drive this thing. It’s a lot of fun. We’re really doing good and the cool thing is when we have a car [that you are] very dissatisfied with and we finished seventh, that shows the strength of our team. So, I’m still encouraged about that. The second half of the season have some really good race tracks for me personally that I like a lot of the 750 horsepower tracks, a lot of the low downforce stuff. That’s what I definitely prefer. It fits my wheelhouse. Looking forward, we have a lot of really good tracks and we just get better and better as a team every week. So, tracks like the [Daytona] road course next week, I’m really looking forward to. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. It’s a lot of great places for us coming up.”

For the 16th and final spot to the Playoffs, William Byron continues to retain the position by 26 points following a pair of top-15 results at Michigan. The first two competitors who continue to trail Byron and the cutline by 26 points are Erik Jones and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Like Byron, Johnson capped off both Michigan races with top-15 finishes and in his final races at the Irish Hills. Jones, on the other hand, had an up-and-down weekend that started with an 11th-place result on Saturday before he finished a disappointing 27th place on Sunday. With two missed opportunities of locking himself into the postseason and winning at his home track, Jones and his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry team are still on the outside of the cutline and with Jones set to depart the organization following this season.

Rookie Tyler Reddick had a long weekend at Michigan as he recorded finishes of 18th and 24th between the two races, and he now trails the cutline by 36 points.

“We fought hard today at Michigan International Speedway, but our No. 8 Chevrolet Accessories Camaro ZL1 1LE was a challenge during the race,” Reddick said. “We fired off extremely tight, which made it hard to move around and run the bottom like I needed to be able to do. My crew chief, Randall Burnett, made some good adjustments during the race that helped loosen me up, but we just needed a little bit more today. We’ll definitely look back at this weekend as a team to see what we can learn from it and regroup for next weekend.”

The remaining competitors who trail the top-16 cutline by 122 or more points include rookie Christopher Bell, Bubba Wallace, Michael McDowell, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., rookie John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Newman, Ty Dillon, Matt Kenseth, Corey LaJoie, Ryan Preece, Daniel Suarez, rookie Brennan Poole and rookie Quin Houff.

The battle for the final spots towards the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs will continue next weekend in the inaugural Daytona International Speedway road course event, which will occur on August 16 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.


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