We’re down to five races left in the Cup Series regular season. Currently, nine drivers have guaranteed spots into the postseason via race wins. Seven more drivers hold down wildcard spots with at least two wildcard slots being available for the 10 race postseason.
But, among the drivers to have not won yet, who is sitting pretty and who’s not?
Aric Almirola is only 94 points to the good and the top wildcard driver because he rarely has bad finishes. Almirola, has 10 top 10 finishes in 2019 but six of those came in the first seven races of the year. Out of the last 14 races, he’s brought his No. 10 Ford inside of the op 10 just four times. Despite that, his worst finish in that time frame is 17th as he’s a top 15 machine. While he hasn’t scored a top five in the last 18 races, if he can just keep getting top 15’s he should have more than enough points banked to make the playoffs.
Ryan Blaney in his No. 12 Ford two weeks ago at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Blaney, is +79 and trending in the right direction. He has five top 10 finishes in his last seven starts on the year including three in the top six in his No. 12 Ford. He had just four top 10 finishes in the first 14 events of the year. I think it’s only a matter of time before he passed Almirola as the top wildcard driver.
William Byron is +62 and looking good too. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has emerged a lot like Blaney lately. Byron, has three top eight finishes in his last five starts on the season and looks like a contender in his No. 24 Chevrolet. I too think he can catch Almirola to move into the second wildcard position.
Another hot driver is Erik Jones. He has three consecutive top three finishes in his No. 20 Toyota on the season and four top seven results in his last five races too. Heading into the Kentucky, he was 13 points behind the cutoff. Heading into Watkins Glen, he’s 39 points to the good. I like his direction.
Kyle Larson is starting to emerge too. He has four top 10 finishes in his last six starts on the year in his No. 42 Chevrolet including three of which being in the top five.
But, that’s where the line for me stops. Clint Bowyer (+12) and Ryan Newman (+12) hold the final two spots. Jimmie Johnson (-12), Daniel Suarez (-31), Paul Menard (-68) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-88) are all four battling for the final two spots.
Menard and Stenhouse aren’t showing any signs of being contenders to win and aren’t any where close to getting enough points to get into the playoffs on strength.
Johnson, has two top 10 finishes in his last eight starts on the year with the last three weeks being 30th, 30th and 15th respectively.
Daniel Suarez riding through the garage last weekend in Pocono
Suarez’ last six finishes are – 17th, 24th, 40th, 8th, 19th and 24th respectively. With the way that they are trending, I don’t know if they can make the playoffs without winning. But, Suarez has never won a Cup race before and Johnson is riding an 80 race winless streak now.
That means Bowyer and Newman are barely good enough but might get by. Bowyer, hasn’t had a top five finish in the last eight races and just has scored two top 10 finishes since the Coke 600.
Newman, is looking good though with five top 10 finishes in the last seven. How ironic is it that the two that got in a fist fight after the All-Star race are fighting for the final two spots in the playoffs?
Bowyer, Johnson and Suarez are sliding but one gets in.