BROOKLYN, Mich. — It was tumultuous day for drivers on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs bubble in Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway.
Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson came into the 400-miler tied with Ryan Newman on the playoff cutline, but the No. 48 team’s postseason chances took a hit when Johnson scraped the wall at the exit of Turn 2 on Lap 15. Forced to make multiple pit stops for repairs, Johnson went an initial seven laps down and finished 34th — eight laps behind race winner Kevin Harvick.
After the race, Johnson placed the blame on himself for too much aggression too soon — a move that put him 12 points behind the postseason cutline with three races remaining in the regular season.
My aggression early in the race led to a mistake… this one is on me. Eyes forward and bring on Bristol.
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) August 11, 2019
While one Stewart-Haas Racing driver reached Victory Lane, another faced a setback. Clint Bowyer sailed hard into the outside barrier in Turn 3 at the start of the final stage after Paul Menard got the No. 14 Ford Mustang loose. Bowyer was forced to retire as the repair clock expired per NASCAR’s Damaged Vehicle Policy, and he finished 37th — now just six points above the cutline in the 16th and final spot after holding a 12-point cushion prior to Sunday.
“You can talk about the bubble and worrying about points, but I am way more worried about getting established and running up front at these types of race tracks,” Bowyer said. “If you make the playoffs and can’t compete in it then what is the use? We have some things to work out.”
The biggest winners of the day included Newman and Daniel Suarez. Issues for Bowyer and Johnson allowed Newman to reap the benefits of a 12th-place finish at Michigan and pushed him into 15th in the driver standings, 16 points ahead of the cutline.
For Suarez, playing the fuel-mileage game worked to his advantage and helped him earn a fifth-place result. Suarez now sits just six points behind Bowyer after gaining 17 points on the cutline. Overcoming a wall scrape in Saturday’s final practice that obligated the No. 41 SHR squad to make repairs in lieu of a backup car, Suarez noted it was far from a perfect day.
“It was very wild, we were more aggressive than I was expecting,” Suarez said. “I knew with 25 laps to go, I was already saving a little bit, trying to race hard and pass people while I was already saving.”
During the final circuits, Suarez had trust in crew chief Billy Scott that his Ford Mustang had enough gas to make it to the finish line, but the situation still had him on edge.
“The team did a good job telling me, ‘You are good to go,’ but even when they’re telling me, ‘I think we are good to go,’ that ‘think’ makes me a little nervous,” Suarez said. “Overall, very proud of my team. Hopefully we can have more runs like this.”
As the focus now shifts to Saturday’s Bristol Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Suarez isn’t letting the intensity of the playoff push affect his approach toward postseason.
“We have to be smart,” Suarez said. “If I let pressure go over my head, I’m going to start making mistakes and I’m going to let down my team. We just have be calm, relax and have fun.”