Bubble drivers fighting for final playoff spots at Indianapolis

by Justin Nguyen

Sunday’s Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be the Monster Energy Cup Series‘ regular season finale. With fourteen of sixteen playoff spots filled, two remain up for grabs for those who have yet to clinch.

During the previous week’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Erik Jones scored his first win of the year to guarantee himself a spot in the playoffs, while Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Kyle Busch, who has four victories so far, clinched the regular season championship after finishing third. Meanwhile, Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, and Kyle Larson booked their trips to the playoffs via strong points runs despite not winning.

The other eight drivers all clinched with wins during the regular season: Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. (four wins), Brad Keselowski (three), Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick (two), and Joey Logano (two), Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch (one). Justin Haley is the lone Cup race winner not racing in the playoffs as he is competing for NASCAR Xfinity Series points.

With two slots still available, bubble drivers like Clint Bowyer (fifteenth in points), Daniel Suárez (sixteenth), Ryan Newman (seventeenth), and Jimmie Johnson (eighteenth) are in the hunt to claim them. Although every other winless full-time driver in the top thirty can qualify with a victory at Indianapolis, the four can also do so with strong points days and help from other drivers should they not win themselves.

For instance, if a new driver wins, Bowyer can clinch if he records 48 points; if the winner is someone who has already claimed victory earlier in the year or one of the four winless playoff drivers, he needs 46 points. His Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate Suárez would require 54 points to clinch if he does not win but a repeat or the four winless do.

Should a driver not in the top sixteen win, Suárez, Newman, and Johnson would also require help in the form of other drivers’ finishes to qualify.

For Johnson, who has not won since 2017 and only has single-digit top-ten finishes, he is on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time since the postseason format was introduced in 2004. The seven-time Cup champion has four wins at Indianapolis, the second-most in the race’s history. Johnson tweeted on Wednesday:

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