The time is starting to wind down on the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season. Only three races remain and three completely different tracks. You have a 1/2-mile high banked oval in Bristol this weekend followed by a 1.33-mile Darlington oval on Labor Day weekend and a 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval a week after that.
With how things are looking, it’s down to a four driver battle for the final two spots into the 10 race postseason.
Ryan Blaney (+101), Aric Almirola (+92), William Byron (+89), Kyle Larson (+71) and Erik Jones (+70) are all really good in the standings right now. I don’t see anyone catching them.
That leaves Ryan Newman (+16), Clint Bowyer (+6), Daniel Suarez (-6) and Jimmie Johnson (-12) fighting for the final two spots. I’d like to include Paul Menard in this but he’s 53 points back and needs to win. He has one career win and that came 291 starts ago.
So, out of those four drivers, who holds the edge?
Ryan Newman just minded his own business last Sunday in Michgan and brought his car home 12th. It was Newman’s sixth top 12 result in his last nine races. Bowyer and Johnson have two a piece in that same time frame.
But, it’s Newman vs. the powerhouses too though.
Newman is just doing enough to get by right now. He knows the deficit his No. 6 Ford has to the cars that he’s battling to get inside of the top 16 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings. He’s driving for a team in Roush/Fenway Racing that hasn’t won a race in the last 78 tries. He himself hasn’t won in his last 91 starts.
The teams he’s battling for a playoff spot? Stewart-Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports.
But, as stated above, those drivers are struggling too.
Bowyer’s last nine finishes are – 35th, 11th, 37th, 34th, 6th, 20th, 11th, 20th and now 37th. That’s four finishes outside of the top 30 and six outside of the top 20. He went from +73 in the points after Kansas to +6 in the standings leaving Michigan.
Johnson’s last five are 30th, 30th, 15th, 19th and 34th respectively.
Suarez’ fifth place run last weekend was his first top five since June 10. Six of Suarez’ last eight finishes are 17th or worse.
So, who gets in then?
We know that none of the four are likely to win. Newman hasn’t won since 2017. Johnson, hasn’t won since 2016. Bowyer hasn’t won in 44 races. Suarez has never won.
So, it’s going to come down to points.
At Bristol, Bowyer has four top 10 finishes in five tries with Stewart-Haas Racing including seven top 10 finishes in his last nine overall tries there.
Johnson has also been strong in Bristol. He has three consecutive top 10 finishes to go along with a top 11 in six straight tries. Since 2014, his finishes at Bristol are – 19th, 4th, 2nd, 4th, 23rd, 7th, 1st, 11th, 3rd, 9th and 10th respectively.
Newman has been strong too. He came home ninth in the spring race and has four straight top 12’s there.
Suarez finished eighth with his first start at Bristol with SHR in April.
This will be a tight battle on Saturday night.
What about Darlington?
Bowyer has never finished in the top five there and has just one career top 10. His last four finishes are – 17th, 22nd, 40th and 36th respectively.
Johnson has struggled as of late too. His last four finishes are 19th, 33rd, 12th and 39th respectively.
Suarez, has finishes of 38th and 29th in two career starts.
Newman though has four top 10 finishes in his last six tries and only two finishes outside of 13th since 2009.
That leaves Indy.
Bowyer, finished fifth last year but has just two top 10 finishes in his last eight tries. His best finish is fourth.
Johnson, may have several wins at the Brickyard but four of his last five are 14th or worse results.
Suarez was seventh in 2017 and 18th last year.
Newman, has two consecutive top 10 finishes in the Brickyard 400 and six top 12’s in his last seven tries.
So, if you go by stats heading into Bristol and who’s done what at Bristol, Darlington and Indy, Newman seems almost like a lock.
That leaves the final spot down to Bowyer, Suarez and Johnson. I give the nod to Johnson only because he’s never missed the playoffs and his car has shown to have more speed consistently than Suarez and Bowyer.