With one race down in the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, we’re already seeing some drivers sweating their playoff positioning while others surprisingly find themselves on the right side of the bubble … for now.
After a wacky night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that saw four playoff drivers finish 19th or worse, including the regular-season champion, NASCAR.com’s Pat DeCola and Terrin Waack make their cases for which drivers should be the most panicked heading to Richmond Raceway (Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
DECOLA: For a quick minute there, it was starting to look like Clint Bowyer might be the dark horse of the NASCAR Playoffs, picking up steam at precisely the right time to set himself up for a deep postseason run. Heck, he even won the opening pole of the ’19 playoffs — his first in 12 years. He then went out and led just one lap from said pole, pulling into the garage after the race with an uninspiring 25th-place result.
The Stewart-Haas Racing cars are fast, obviously, and seemingly gaining momentum after the four-car organization swept qualifying by putting the quartet in the front two rows. Time and again, though, Kevin Harvick (finished second) is the only one of the four to consistently harness that power and turn in strong finishes week-to-week.
The book isn’t closed on Bowyer, for sure, as he’s capable of winning at Richmond (two wins, P3 there earlier this year) and he’s among the better road racers in the series, with the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval looming — his scored a top five there last year. He needs to rebound in a big way, however, if he wants to be on the right side of the bubble a couple of weeks from now.
WAACK: It sure seems like Aric Almirola has slid under the radar this entire season. There was never really a question of whether he’d make the playoffs, which he did, but he was never guaranteed a spot either, considering he has not won a race in 2019.
Right now, Almirola is right above the cutline — safe by six points in 12th. Below him is Ryan Newman. The two of them, apart from the difference in points, practically have the same stats. Both own one top-five and 10 top-10 finishes. Almirola’s slight edge comes from a single stage win and more laps led overall.
There could easily be a switcheroo on the cutline before the Round of 12. Newman is on a much more steady roll. The No. 6 has pulled off five top-10 showings in the last 10 races, while the No. 10 has just one during that span. Almirola was performing his best at the beginning of the season — six top 10s in the first seven races — but this is the end of the season.