Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Points at a premium as second half begins

Posted by Eric Fisher On June 2

At the midpoint of NASCAR’s regular season, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have dominated the action. Harvick has won five of the 13 races. Busch has won four, giving him a 67-point lead over Joey Logano. Harvick, with two “did not finishes,” is in third place.

The consequence of having two drivers winning nine of the first 13 races is that it’s likely that points will play an important role in determining the 16-driver playoff field.

Only six drivers, including Harvick and Busch, have wins this season. Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Logano and Austin Dillon have reached Victory Lane, virtually guaranteeing them spots in NASCAR’s playoff. That leaves 10 playoff spots to be achieved either by victory or through overall points. The likelihood of Busch and Harvick not winning any more races is slim, so the points part of the equation will be particularly important.

The next opportunity to earn a victory or pick up points is Sunday’s Pocono 400 (2 p.m.). Obviously, a victory would be ideal, but moving away from the points cut line, to borrow a golf term, is also important.

With Dillon in 19th place, outside of the top 16, the cutoff spot for points is 15th place. If the season ended today, the playoff field would include the six drivers with wins – five of whom are in the top 16 – and the 10 winless drivers with the most points.

It seems too early to watch the standings, but this year it may be appropriate. Entering Sunday’s Pocono 400, Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are tied for the final playoff berth. They are only three points behind Alex Bowman, who replaced Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 car. More importantly, they are 33 points ahead of the next closest driver, which is Paul Menard.

Drivers such as Menard (17th place) must begin to close that gap with Bowman, Elliott and Stenhouse Jr. or else they won’t have any option for making the playoffs other than to win a race.

Closing the gap is even more imperative for Daniel Suarez, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman. Suarez is 18 points behind Menard, which leaves him 51 points behind Elliott and Stenhouse. McMurray and Newman, both of whom qualified for the playoffs last year, are 65 and 66 points, respectively, behind Elliott and Stenhouse. If they don’t start closing that gap, they could find themselves desperate for a victory in the final races before the playoffs begin.

Kasey Kahne is another driver from last year’s playoffs who is in danger of missing the postseason this year. He trails Elliott and Stenhouse by 110 points.

An important thing to remember is that if one of the drivers outside the top 15 wins a race, the “cut line” will move up. For example, if Newman picks up a win, the last driver in on points will be Bowman, leaving both Elliott and Stenhouse (based on current points) on the outside looking in.

On the other side of the cutline, Jimmie Johnson is in 12th place, only 31 points above the current playoff cut line. Johnson could resolve this issue with a victory. If he doesn’t win a race, however, he certainly doesn’t want to get close to the wire with a narrow cushion in the standings. An ill-timed crash or engine trouble could knock the 7-time NASCAR champion out of the playoffs if he doesn’t establish a cushion above the cut line.

Meanwhile, the top 11, which includes winless drivers Brad Keselowski (4th place), Kurt Busch (6th), Denny Hamlin (7th), Kyle Larson (9th), Aric Almirola (10th) and Ryan Blaney (11th), appear fairly safe. But a victory Sunday at Pocono would make them feel much more comfortable as NASCAR kicks off the second half its season.

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