CRANDALL: Who’s driving the playoffs ache practice
It’s extremely unlikely that the drivers towards the underside of the playoff grid are going to wind up hoisting the large trophy in November. Let’s face details, there’s a motive they’re preventing tooth and nail simply be part of the postseason.
However it has been fascinating to see a few of the sport’s largest names develop into the topic of so many headlines this summer season. And that’s solely going to extend with three races to go within the common season.
Bristol. Darlington. Indianapolis. Go massive or go residence. Or ought to I say, go to the subsequent race as obligated, however get pleasure from 10 weeks of irrelevancy as all focus can be on the 16 drivers speaking up how they’ve pretty much as good an opportunity as the subsequent man to win the championship.
The champion goes to be one of many guys who’ve carried out all yr. Guys who’ve proven they will win on any given week. For the fellows on the backside, simply making the playoffs is commonly the spotlight of their season.
Don’t suppose so? The anomaly has been Tony Stewart, who entered the 2011 playoffs claiming he had no likelihood earlier than successful 50% of the postseason races and his third title. Right here’s the place the eventual champion has been seeded yearly because the playoffs started, and word that 2014 was the primary yr below the present elimination model format:
2004, Kurt Busch: seventh of 10 (drivers)
2005, Tony Stewart: first of 10
2006, Jimmie Johnson: second of 10
2007, Johnson: first of 12
2008, Johnson: third of 12
2009, Johnson: second of 12
2010, Johnson: second of 12
2011, Stewart: ninth of 12
2012, Brad Keselowski: second of 12
2013, Jimmie Johnson: second of 13
2014, Kevin Harvick: sixth of 16
2015, Kyle Busch: first of 16
2016, Johnson: fourth of 16
2017, Martin Truex Jr.: first of 16
2018, Joey Logano: sixth of 16
After all, 16 drivers even qualifying for the playoffs is an excessive amount of. However that’s a battle that has already been fought on this web site.
William Byron, Kyle Larson, and Erik Jones have been doing all the correct issues to earn some respiration room on the cutline. All three are performing nicely, and with 89, 71, and 70 factors respectively on the cutline, that’s over a full race benefit.
And that comes on the expense of those guys …
Ryan Newman (+16)
We already know that Newman takes no solace in elevating the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. The numbers present that Newman is doing a lot, a lot higher than the 2 drivers who break up the trip final season, however the veteran solely cares about successful.
Certain, Newman and crew chief Scott Graves haven’t seemed like race winners, however sometimes they quietly sneak into the highest 5 or top-10 and make you speak about them. Their eight top-10 finishes this yr have come on quite a lot of tracks, which reveals they’ve all of the items however they nonetheless lack uncooked pace and consistency.
Michigan was the newest instance of the group being there when it issues most as Newman gained 16 spots within the closing 50 laps to complete 12th. Doing so catapulted him to 15th on the playoff grid after being tied for the final spot going into the weekend.
On one hand, Newman making all of it the way in which to Miami and successful the title appears a ridiculous thought. However, he practically pulled it off in 2014 when he was second to Harvick within the first yr of the elimination format. Nonetheless, I feel it’s protected to say there received’t be a repeat of that this yr and Newman simply making the postseason, which most likely wasn’t predicted by many coming into the yr, can be a pleasant enhance for Roush Fenway. Simply don’t depend on him celebrating it an excessive amount of.
Clint Bowyer (+6)
Bowyer mentioned again in Daytona that his group shouldn’t be a 16th-place group, however right here they’re nonetheless being bounced across the bubble. While you hear the phrases “Bowyer” and “Stewart-Haas Racing” you suppose championship materials … however not this yr. The No. 14 Ford group has not solely been a sufferer of dangerous racing luck, however have additionally shot themselves within the foot too many instances.
9 top-10 finishes by 23 races shouldn’t be acceptable for this group. Bowyer has the correct mentality in repeatedly expressing that making the playoffs doesn’t imply a factor in case your group isn’t capable of realistically problem for the title. So, it wasn’t all that stunning that after crashing at Michigan – his sixth DNF of the season – Bowyer appeared like a defeated man.
“We’ve got to get one thing discovered with these racetracks,” he mentioned. “We’re actually quick by ourselves, follow and qualifying rather well, within the high 5 virtually each single time, however then we begin the race and don’t make the grip we have to compete. We positively want to seek out some issues out.
“You may discuss in regards to the bubble and worrying about factors, however I’m far more frightened about getting established and working up entrance at some of these racetracks. In the event you make the playoffs and might’t compete in it, then what’s the use? We’ve got some issues to work out. We’ve got a while. We’ve got some good racetracks for us, together with Bristol, developing. We’ve got loads of racing, however we now have to get some issues discovered.”
Bowyer sat as excessive as eighth in factors earlier this yr, and when the group doesn’t have any issues, they’ve carried out as anticipated. However it’s trending downhill after they can least afford it to, and it’s virtually time to utterly write him off.
Daniel Suarez (-6)
On this week’s podcast, Suarez admitted he thought it “was going to be simpler, for certain” to make the playoffs. However his No. 41 Ford group is one other one which has been both sizzling or chilly this yr. Like his teammate Bowyer, when Suarez and his group are on, they’re simply pretty much as good as the highest groups within the collection. On Sunday in Michigan his was the second-highest ending SHR automobile.
Suarez is placing collectively a profession yr within the Cup Collection by posting improved numbers from his first two seasons, reminiscent of extra laps led this yr than the final two mixed, and along with his subsequent top-five end he’ll break the mark he earned final yr. However Suarez has by no means made the postseason earlier than, and playoffs are anticipated if you drive for Joe Gibbs and now Tony Stewart.
Of all of the drivers on this battle for the playoffs, Suarez must be checked out as having probably the most strain on him to be one of many 16 drivers labeled championship contenders. Much more so than this subsequent man …
Jimmie Johnson (-12)
Nicely, what extra might be mentioned right here? It’s been 800 days since Johnson final received a Cup Collection race and as he detailed for us earlier this yr, he’s felt it’s been even longer since his No. 48 Chevrolet group has been pretty much as good as they as soon as had been. The story of this yr is straightforward: good one week, horrible the subsequent.
Johnson went 17 years with one crew chief. He’s now on his second crew chief of the season. He described it in Pocono as a “three-alarm fireplace” to make the playoffs. He’s made errors. The vehicles haven’t been good. He’s been caught up in different’s issues. Break it down nevertheless you need, however #chasing8 stays a great distance from being attained.
As for Paul Menard, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and everybody else on the skin wanting in, nobody has proven they will put collectively sufficient consistency to get within the playoffs on factors, so it’ll be about pulling off a win within the subsequent three weeks.
And that isn’t a wager I’d put cash on.