BROOKLYN, Mich. — As drivers jockey for playoff position, they sometimes aren’t even aware of their situation.
Just look at Chase Elliott, winless this season and 12th in the current playoff-qualifying standings, he said he didn’t think much about playoff implications when racing Kyle Larson (who already has won this year), Denny Hamlin (winless, 14th) and Joey Logano (winless, 15th) for the win Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.
He doesn’t have it as simple as Dale Earnhardt Jr., 23rd in the standings and 141 points behind the current cutoff with 11 races remaining.
“I don’t’ think we can get in there points-wise — we’ve got to win,” Earnhardt said after his ninth-place finish Sunday.
Elliott almost tries to take the same approach. He finished second behind Larson at Michigan. Not good as far as earning an automatic playoff bit, but not bad considering he finished ahead of all the winless drives he’s battling for a position in points.
“You can think about it, worry about it all you want — the people who run good, the people that put themselves in position are going to win, period,” Elliott said. “That’s the way it is. That’s the deal. You might as well just go ahead and count on the guys that consistently run well. You can pretty much count on them winning.
“Wherever that shakes out, it’s going to shake you out. I think if you run well enough every week, you’re probably going to get a [winner] sticker before too long.”
Logano admitted he is aware that he is on the bubble for the playoffs thanks to his win at Richmond not counting toward playoff eligibility because the car failed postrace measurements.
After five consecutive weeks of finishes outside the top 20, Logano appeared to be the happiest he has ever been after a third-place finish.
“We had a 10th‑place car,” Logano said. “We finished third with it — proud of that. We had a rough month-and-a-half. We stopped the bleeding today.”
Nine drivers are set to make the playoffs with wins — Jimmie Johnson (three), Larson (two), Martin Truex Jr. (two), Brad Keselowski (two) and then Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon with one apiece. The only way they don’t make the playoffs is if there are more winners than there are spots in the 16-driver playoff field.
Kyle Busch has a 119-point cushion on Clint Bowyer, the first driver currently on the outside looking in, followed by Kevin Harvick (117-point cushion), Elliott (87), Jamie McMurray (59), Denny Hamlin (39), Logano (7) and Matt Kenseth (7).
The other points battle is at the top. Larson has a five-point lead on Truex. The winner of the regular-season title gets 15 additional playoff points, while second in the standings get 10. Truex is the current playoff-point leader with 20. Playoff points will be added to a driver’s reset total for each of the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Earning the points lead Sunday was not lost on Larson, whose 13 playoff points rank him third behind Truex (20) and Jimmie Johnson (15) and ahead of Keselowski (12), Blaney (eight) and the rest.
“That’s a big goal of mine — to be the points leader at the end of the regular season,” Larson said. “Martin has been so fast all year long. He’s dominating it seems like every race. He’s already racked up a lot of bonus points.
“I need to do all I can to get some back on him, help our playoffs out. You’ve seen me racing hard at the end of those stages, and that’s because every point is going to matter for when it comes down to Richmond.”
Xfinity Series: Byron Be Good
Byron said he raced a little bit conservative, leaving Hamlin a lane because he wasn’t sure if Hamlin would try to move him.
“We’ve got to continue to lead laps and be up front there, and we’re going to get our chance to win a few of these races,” Byron said.
Byron is third in the standings and as long as he goes to every race, he’ll make the Xfinity Series playoffs. With only two Xfinity regulars with wins this year, he sits 176 points ahead of the current cutoff in points.
But Byron likely will win. The “stand-alone” season starts next week at Iowa and then takes a break until July with four races over a nine-race span at Iowa (again in July), Mid-Ohio, Road America and then Kentucky in September.
“He’s been a pretty good driver and he was great on the restarts that seem to make up a lot of our racing,” Keselowski said.
Camping World Truck Series: Nemechek In, Can He Continue Racing?
John Hunter Nemechek became the fourth series regular to win this year, and now the question is: Can he make the eight-driver playoffs?
He should — he’s ninth in the standings — but the team still has sponsorship concerns to get through the season. The family-owned Nemco Motorsports has six people working on the trucks.
Nemechek will take the same truck to Iowa.
“Financially, it’s been really tough to be in the position we’re in right now, and it’s taken all I have to get here,” team owner Joe Nemechek said. “Our future in this deal is not certain.”
Only 13 drivers have competed in every race this year, and a 14th (Justin Haley) is eligible for the playoffs thanks to a waiver that allowed him to miss the first two races because he was not old enough to race.