Now that we’re nearing the midway mark of the 2019 season, the playoff race is heating up. We’ve still only had just seven drivers reach victory lane this year, meaning there’s 9 wildcard spots available at the moment. With only one superspeedway race left in the regular season and it being run this weekend, it’s likely we’re going to have a race among several drivers for some wide open playoff spots.
Currently, there are several drivers near the bubble. Unfortunately for one team, two of their drivers are squarly on the bubble, like in the last two spots in.
Right now, William Byron is +39 in 12th. Kyle Larson is +35 behind him in 13th. Jimmie Johnson (+20), Daniel Suarez (+18) and Clint Bowyer (+15) are on the good side of the bubble. But, you have Erik Jones (-15), Ryan Newman (-20) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-58) right there too. Jones and Stenhouse have won the ‘400 in each of the last two years. If someone 17th or worse in the standings wins, then the cutoff moves up a spot.
Suarez and Bowyer, both Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, are separated by just three points. Johnson is only five points above them.
With such a slim margin, stage points are crucial now. That means strategy is going to be key as some drivers, like these ones in particular, may need to forego race wins and positioning for them and just get as many points as they can get.
Just look at how Sonoma went two weekends ago. William Byron went for stage points, not the win, and it worked. He may have only finished 19th but he scored the fifth most points for the race (36). That propelled him up in the playoff standings.
Kyle Larson only finished 10th himself in Sonoma but he too went for stage points instead of the race win. He scored the third most points (39) of the day.
With Daytona being another track where you can pit before the pits close at the end of the stages and not lose as lap as well, do you pit to position yourself for the end or do you go for stage points?
That will once again be a key thing to watch on Saturday night? The playoff bubble drivers needs the points but they also need to win, especially when drivers like Ty Dillon, David Ragan, Michael McDowell, Matt DiBenedetto and Bubba Wallace could each win this weekend.
That has to have SHR worried a bit. If someone behind Suarez and Bowyer win, then at least one of them will be on the outside looking in. That’s a far cry from where they were last year.
A year ago, they put all four drivers in the Round of 8. Also last year, SHR had seven wins, 20 top fives and 38 top 10’s at this point of the season. This year, they’ve scored zero wins, 13 top fives and 34 top 10’s. They also led 1,566 laps at this point last year and only 624 this year counting Harvick’s domination on Sunday in Chicagoland.
While he hasn’t finished better than fourth all season, Harvick is solidly in right now. Aric Almirola is at his best on superspeedway’s and made reference last weekend that he’s actually trending better so far this season than where he was at this point last year.
It’s the other two that have to be nervous heading into this weekend’s race. They could easily fall out of the playoff order at the midway mark.