Big names at risk of NASCAR playoff elimination after Talladega
Elliott, Bowyer, Bowman and Logano face elimination at Kansas
Regardless of the championship format, Talladega Superspeedway in October has always been viewed as a wild card race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
Due to the inevitable carnage in Central Alabama, and a driver in a must-win scenario actually accomplishing the feat on Monday afternoon, the current bottom four on the playoff grid now find themselves in a precarious position with just one race remaining in the Round of 12.
1. Kyle Larson Adv.
2. Ryan Blaney Adv.
3. Denny Hamlin +56
4. Martin Truex +48
5. Kyle Busch +41
6. Kevin Harvick +36
7. Brad Keselowski +20
8. Joey Logano +18
9. Alex Bowman -18
10. Chase Elliott -22
11. Clint Bowyer -24
12. William Byron -27
Simplifying the points grid above, Bowman, Elliott, Bowyer and Byron need an early DNF from Keselowski and Logano in addition to the best possible day across all three stages next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.
More realistically, without help, they are almost facing a must-win scenario themselves.
Blaney entered this weekend 22 points out of the top-eight, which is how many drivers will advance to the next round. While he may have been well-positioned to have a shot next weekend with a second-place finish, the victory makes Kansas a moot point.
“Realistically, we felt like we had to win one of the next two races,” Blaney said. “I know this is a wild car race and a lot of crashes can happen. But we felt like we were going to have to win.
“This is a big win for our guys to be able to advance after what happened last week.”
Meanwhile … Bowman, Elliott, Bowyer and Byron were all caught up in crashes throughout the afternoon, deeply impacting their positioning for the remainder of the race and into Kansas.
Bowyer and Elliott already entered the race below the cutline and had no margin of error for misfortune. It found them anyway. Elliott was involved in the Lap 107 multi-car crash and Bowyer suffered a variety of problems throughout the afternoon.
Elliott rebounded from the crash to finish eighth but was denied the opportunity to score stage points at the end of the second stage. Bowyer finished 23rd, adding to an already deep hole entering the weekend.
Blaney winning, to skip ahead of all of them, was a worst case scenario for the bubble drivers.
“We had our ups and downs for sure today. Got caught up in that crash but my guys did a nice job of putting it back together as best we could. Just head out West to Kansas now and try to get a win out there. That’s about all we can do now.”
Bowyer lost a couple of laps after getting spun on Lap 153. His car landed on the apron in a strange way that saw only one of his four tires touch the racing surface — his rear-end propped up by the banking.
“I brushed the wall,” Bowyer said of the incident. “I got into (Daniel Hemric) and was just pushing like I was all day long. I don’t know. He ran up too high and when you push you’ve got to kind of be to the outside and run me into the wall. I was afraid it was gonna go flat, so I bailed out of there and, sure enough, it went flat. And then I just got stuck down there.
“I couldn’t get the (safety officials) to cooperate. They stared at me for a lap. I was like, ‘Boys, we’ve got to figure this shit out. We’ve got to push this thing off.’ I don’t know that they knew I was stuck. I shut it off and was trying to scream, but it is what it is.”
What it is, was yet another playoff driver in a deeper deficit.
At 27 points out, Byron is absolutely in must-win mode. He qualified third there, giving him hope.
“It’s a good track for us, and for my guys historically, and we’ve just got to there and win.”
Barring a first-time winner or a DNF, the points battle would come down to Logano and Bowman. That number is 18 points. There are up to 20 stage points available during the first half of the race and then one point per position for the final stage.
That’s doable for Bowman, who triggered the Lap 107 caution by blocking Logano for the lead.
And now they will likely race for the final spot into the Round of 8 next weekend at Kansas.
“Yeah, but if one of those guys behind us wins, we’re the last one out,” Logano said, who also has to look to gain three points over Keselowski. “I’m happy that Blaney won, that a Team Penske car won, but we have to be mindful that all of the cars behind us have speed.”
Logano is only in this situation because he failed to take the green flag last week at Dover due to a rear axle failire.
“It’s not a comfortable situation, but it’s more comfortable than we were when we came in here,” he said. “We control our own destiny next weekend. That’s all you can ask for.”