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Playoff Outlook: Cup Champions Busch, Logano Among Those Fighting for Final Playoff Spots

With eight races left in the regular season, NASCAR Cup Series champions Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are scratching and clawing for every single point, trying to make the 2024 Playoffs.


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With only eight more races until the checkered flag flies on the NASCAR Cup Series regular season at Darlington Raceway, only four drivers have guaranteed themselves a spot in the Playoffs, having collected multiple victories in the first half of the 2024 season.

For Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, and William Byron, who each have three victories on the season, the objective from now until the post-season is collecting Playoff Points, whether it be through race wins, stage wins, or climbing up the regular-season standings.

Once the regular season wraps, the top-10 in NASCAR Cup Series driver point standings are awarded Playoff Points, on a scale of 15-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.

After 18 races, the regular-season championship battle is raging on between Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, who are tied atop the NASCAR Cup Series points. Denny Hamlin (-40), Martin Truex, Jr. (-48), Tyler Reddick (-60), Christopher Bell (-65), and William Byron (-72) are all within shouting distance of the points lead.

The six drivers that sit below the locked-in quartet on the Playoff Grid are working towards those same goals, but must keep a watchful eye on who pulls into Victory Lane, as more than six playoff-eligible winners in the next eight races would begin the bumping of race winners, with the lowest drivers in points being bumped first.

In the order of points position, those six drivers are Chase Elliot (T-1st), Tyler Reddick (5th), Ryan Blaney (8th), Brad Keselowski (10th), Daniel Suarez (18th), and Austin Cindric (21st).

That's not where the heavyweight fight is, though, by any means. With eight races left in the regular season, the 24 drivers not yet locked into the post-season combine for five NASCAR Cup Series championships and 161 race wins.

Martin Truex, Jr. (+155) has developed a buffer of nearly three full races over the cutline, which would be difficult to lose over the next eight races on strictly poor finishes alone. Without multiple new winners, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver should be okay to make the post-season in his final championship run.

With an advantage exceeding a full race, Ross Chastain (+93) and Ty Gibbs (+82) should be feeling confident about their chances to make the postseason. But, with wildcards of Chicago and Daytona on the horizon, both will need to continue executing, as that gap can be erased quickly through poor finishes or new winners.

The speed has been present for both Alex Bowman (+59) and Chris Buescher (+50), but the results haven't always been positive, kicking them down to 14th and 15th place on the Playoff Grid, less than a full race above the cutline.

With a top-five result in the wet weather conditions at New Hampshire, Buescher made a major gain on the bubble, padding his advantage by 23 points. Meanwhile, for Alex Bowman, a mid-race engine failure relegated the driver of the No. 48 to a 36th-place finish. In the end, though, Bowman only lost seven points, as drivers close to the bubble also had poor finishes.

Entering New Hampshire, the drivers surrounding the bubble were Bubba Wallace and Joey Logano, and despite both drivers finishing outside the top-30 with crash damage, they'll remain on both sides, albeit flip-flopped.

Logano, a two-time champion in the NASCAR Cup Series, has finally broken back into the provisional post-season field, holding a 13-point advantage over Bubba Wallace for the 16th and final spot. But, with those poor finishes at New Hampshire, the drivers even further behind were able to make up a large chunk of points.

"I mean, it doesn't really change much. It just puts you in playoff mode a little bit sooner because you're racing as if you're in the playoffs," Logano said at New Hampshire. "You're not clicked in to where you're already in. You're just racing to get playoff points anywhere you can. You can't take as big of risks on certain things because you can't afford, last week, to blow a tire."

"So, it definitely adjusts some of your setup choices, some of the way you drive, some of the way you call the race in general," Logano continued. "I mean, it goes through your mind, it has to go through your mind. At the same time, you still know what a win is worth, so you gotta go out there and win the race. You don't just stay on points racing and just lay up. You can't do that, but you definitely got to play it smart and not be caution to the wind type of situation."

By finishing second and third, Stewart-Haas teammates Chase Briscoe and Josh Berry were successful in taking massive chunks out of their deficits to the bubble, with the No. 14 gaining 19 points (-44 to -25) and the No. 4 gaining 27 (-100 to -73).

Opposite of Berry and Briscoe, Kyle Busch and Richard Childress Racing can't seem to stop the bleeding, dropping from a 12-point advantage following the Coca-Cola 600 to four weeks later sitting 45 points below the cutline, after scoring three 35th-place results in the last four races.

Todd Gilliland was able to make significant inroads on his deficit at New Hampshire, gaining 14 points on the cutline (moving from -97 to -83). He and Front Row Motorsports teammate Michael McDowell sit 21st and 22nd in points within 100 points of the cutline exiting New Hampshire.

Even though some may consider McDowell on the edge of being able to lock into the post-season via points, the Avondale, Arizona-native isn't one of them; and has been adamant over the last several weeks that a victory is the only route to return to the Playoffs for a second straight year.

"You go in with the same mentality of right now, I would say we're in a must-win," McDowell explained at Sonoma. "Mathematically, we're not, but I feel like we're in a must-win scenario and so you just take that approach every weekend. If your car is good enough to do it and you're in the right position at the right time as we saw with Austin Cindric [at Gateway], you just have to put yourself in position."

That's been a catalyst for a couple of questionable moves, like late in Sunday's event at New Hampshire, when McDowell made an optimistic lunge into the corner, which resulted in a spin for himself and Ryan Blaney, turning a potential top-five into a 15th-place finish.

Of the eight remaining regular season events, McDowell and Front Row Motorsports should have two races circled as major opportunities, the first being the Chicago Street Course (July 7), where he'll have to best Shane van Gisbergen to triumph, and the penultimate regular season event at Daytona (August 24), where McDowell has shown great speed and success before.

For everybody below McDowell, it's pretty much a must-win situation, with Hocevar (-108), Stenhouse (-132), Gragson (-133), Jones (-151), Nemechek (-154), Preece (-155), LaJoie (-174), Haley (-188), Hemric (-190), Dillon (-197), Burton (-222), and Smith (-265) likely unable to make up these substantial margins in eight races.

With the introduction of the Ford Mustang Dark Horse, the manufacturer has struggled on tracks utilizing the traditional aero package for the seventh-generation racecar, which will be used in events at Nashville, Pocono, Indianapolis, Michigan, and Darlington.

The three remaining regular season events, at Chicago, Richmond, and Daytona, will all be run using either the superspeedway or short track aerodynamic package, two areas that Ford Performance has been thriving this year.

In the coming weeks, the natural strengths and weaknesses of each driver and team will weed some competitors out, but for now, without any new winners, the battle continues to be primarily between eight to ten drivers.

Photo Credit: Danny Hansen, NKP for Ford Performance

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