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Playoff Outlook: Logano's Nashville Win Burdens Playoff Path for Drivers Below Cutline

Joey Logano's victory at Nashville has redrawn the playoff picture for the NASCAR Cup Series, leaving the path to the post-season more difficult for those below the cutline.


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Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series event at Nashville Superspeedway served as a fantastic reminder that until the checkered flag is displayed in the regular-season finale at Darlington, the playoff field isn't set.

Joey Logano won the Ally 400, stretching his fuel tank an impressive 110 laps to put the No. 22 Ford Mustang Dark Horse in Victory Lane for the first time (in a points-paying race) this season.

The two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion is by no means a surprise winner, but he's a new winner, the 11th of the season, meaning only five post-season spots are available via points position.

Of the drivers that were in legitimate contention to secure a postseason berth with a victory late in Sunday's event, Joey Logano was NO DOUBT the tamest.

Fourth-place finisher Ryan Preece entered Nashville 28th-place in point standings, 155 points below the cutline. Zane Smith, who finished runner-up, was 34th, a whopping 265 points below the cutline.

Had Preece or Smith ended up winning Sunday's event, there would be two multi-time champions trapped significantly below the cutline, with a wild card race at Chicago, and then six races until the Playoffs.

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Heading into the Grant Park 165 at the Chicago Street Course, here is how things look:

Joey Logano has become the 11th different driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series event in 2024, essentially guaranteeing himself a position in the Playoffs alongside Larson, Hamlin, Bell, Byron, Elliott, Reddick, Blaney, Keselowski, Suarez, and Cindric.

As long as there aren't additional playoff-eligible winners, Martin Truex, Jr. is still sitting in a pretty comfortable spot, with a 143-point buffer on the 17th-place driver on the Playoff Grid.

But, should somebody below the cutline make it to Victory Lane before the end of the regular season, the gap for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver returns to double-digits, and with some poor finishes, could evaporate even more.

Ty Gibbs has now dropped to 13th on the Playoff Grid - the second-highest driver currently in on points -- after a small backslide in recent weeks, leaving him 70 points above the cutline.

It may look like a comfortable gap, right now, but the three drivers sitting above the cutline via points position - Ross Chastain (+66), Chris Buescher (+56), and Alex Bowman (+51) -- are all within 20 points, meaning a new winner would trigger a four-driver dogfight.

After Nashville, Alex Bowman, who is 13th in regular season point standings, has a 51-point advantage over Bubba Wallace for the final playoff spot on points. Wallace had been locked in a tight battle with Joey Logano before the Penske driver won Sunday's event.

Making up that deficit is totally within the realm of what is possible for Wallace and 23XI Racing, but it will require multiple strong performances out of the No. 23, and maybe even some poor luck for one of the four drivers immediately above the cutline.

After a solid finish on Sunday, Chase Briscoe remains 18th in points, but has dropped to being 78 points below the cutline. Even though the Stewart-Haas driver remains within 100 points, it'll be hard to make up big chunks of points on drivers who have shown strength all season.

Near the end of Sunday's event, there looked to be a light at the end of the tunnel for Kyle Busch's recent struggles with Richard Childress Racing. Upon further examination, those lights were headlights of another oncoming train, which knocked him more than 100 points (-104) below the cutline with another abysmal finish.

Busch is a two-time Cup champion and the winningest driver across NASCAR's National Series. It's quite odd to think a driver of that caliber could miss the post-season but without some incredible runs or a victory, it looks as though the No. 8 Chevrolet could be in trouble.

For the drivers behind Busch, who is 19th on the Playoff Grid, the opportunity to put together solid races and be in contention for the post-season based on points, is dead and gone.

Josh Berry (-131), Todd Gilliland (-132), Carson Hocevar (-156), Michael McDowell (-166), Noah Gragson (-174), Ryan Preece (-191), and those outside the top-25 in point standings are now working under the assumption that a win is necessary to make the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs this season.

Josh Berry and Rodney Childers have had the No. 4 Ford Mustang at the front of the pack this season on the short tracks. That pairing could be looking at Richmond as their best shot to get to Victory Lane, or after a third-place finish at Darlington, maybe a last-ditch effort in the regular-season finale.

Front Row Motorsports has its two drivers Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland in must-win situations now, as well, and while both have shown strength on road courses, the edge there has to be given to McDowell, who won at Indy's Road Course in 2023.

As for Gilliland, the No. 38 has consistently been a top-15 to top-20 car throughout the Summer, and while that won't be enough to get to Victory Lane, speed like the team had at Darlington will be needed consistently to even have a shot.

But, a strong superspeedway program could bring both of those drivers into the fold in the penultimate event of the regular season at Daytona International Speedway.

Noah Gragson has been pretty hit-or-miss this season when it comes to the intermediate tracks, but with a relatively untested track type coming up with Pocono, Michigan, and Indianapolis, there's a possibility the No. 10 Stewart-Haas team could find themselves in the mix.

It's probably a stretch to consider Justin Haley and Rick Ware Racing have a path to making the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, but the No. 51 team is consistently on the rise, and bringing cars to the racetrack with top-15 speed, or better.

There is one thing working to their advantage: the speed isn't limited to a single type of racetrack, it's been spread across short tracks, intermediates, and road courses. It would be one of the biggest shocks in recent memory, but certainly not completely out of the realm.

Barring a random surge of speed for those not mentioned, it's Daytona or bust for the rest of the NASCAR Cup Series field, as the superspeedways have always been known to be a great equalizer.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Corey LaJoie, Daniel Hemric, Austin Dillon, and Harrison Burton have all been able to find success in some form or another on the superspeedways, so the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in August could be their only chance at making the postseason.

The gap at the bubble may look rather large, but the NASCAR Cup Series post-season battle is one or two new winners away from getting incredibly feisty.

Plus, as the start of the Playoffs looms closer and closer, more drivers will start making those optimistic moves that Michael McDowell has been noted as making in recent weeks, all in an attempt to secure that walk-off victory and a post-season berth.

Photo: Tyson Gifford, TobyChristie.com

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