Now that we are heading to the NBC Sports portion of the NASCAR schedule, it means one thing – it’s time to start talking points. See, discussing the points standings prior to this point of the year was pretty much irrelevant.
It was all about race wins and race wins only. Win a race, automatically make the playoffs. The points standings were a moot point. Why talk about points when it’s all about playoff positioning?
But, with only two organizations combining to win 15 of the 16 races run in 2019, we have seen just six different winners. That means we have 10 wildcard spots available and with it being the summer months, we have just 10 races left before the playoffs start.
So, who gets those 10 spots.
Right now, we have two big named drivers on the outside looking in. Both Jimmie Johnson and Erik Jones wouldn’t be in the playoffs if they started today. That’s crazy to think about.
No one has more championships in NASCAR’s premiere level than Johnson. He, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt are tied with seven titles a piece. Through 16 races, he’s not in the playoffs.
But, it’s not like he’s far out. Johnson, trails Ryan Newman by just one point for the final playoff spot. That can be made up by time the first stage ends at Chicagoland this weekend. The question is, can he make his way in and stay here?
What about Jones? This is a contract year for Jones as he’s heard the same noise you all have heard. Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing wants Christopher Bell in the Cup Series in 2020. The problem is, where?
Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are all under contract with JGR for next season. Combined, they’ve won 10 races already in 2019 including Hamlin winning the Daytona 500. They sit second (Busch), fifth (Truex) and sixth (Hamlin) in the overall points standings respectively.
If Bell is going to move up, the most logical place would be to replace Jones in the No. 20 Toyota. After all, Bell has driven the No. 20 Toyota in the XFINITY Series in each of the last two years.
But, Jones insists that they’re working out a deal for him to remain in his seat for 2020. Still, nothing is done quite yet.
Jones, currently sits 18th in the points standings and has just four top five finishes all season. It’s hard to get that contract extension when your teammates are winning and doing so multiple times. Busch and Truex have each won four times. Hamlin has two trips to victory lane.
It’s good to know that the speed is in the cars, but it’s also a drawback in the sense that you’re not winning yourself. It would be one thing for Jones to have not won yet but to be near the top 10 of the standings, it’s another for him to have one career win in Cup and to be 18th near the midway mark of his third season.
He does have four top eight finishes in his last six starts on the season and is trending in the right direction.
But, if Jones and Johnson were to bump their ways in, whom do they bump out?
Ryan Newman would be the logical pick but he’s been running very well though. He has two straight top eight finishes in his No. 6 Ford to go along with five top 10 finishes in his last nine starts overall. They’re finding more and more speed and won’t be an easy out that’s for sure.
Kyle Larson is in 15th but he certainly won’t be an easy driver to bump. The only reason he’s down that far is because he’s had some terrible luck in 2019. His No. 42 Chevrolet has the speed that it takes to compete for wins and top five finishes and I would be shocked if he doesn’t do so on a more regular basis soon.
That then leaves William Byron and Daniel Suarez up next. Again, they’re young but running well right now.
While the bubble may be down just two drivers missing the boat, barring someone outside the top 18 doesn’t win, there will be some big named teams not making it.
It could be a Hendrick, Gibbs, Stewart-Haas or Ganassi driver or drivers missing the playoffs. That’s big news.