Bubble Watch: Road-course aces have their chance with four playoff spots still open

Ty Gibbs and Michael McDowell drive at Sonoma
Logan Riely
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The NASCAR Cup Series playoff bubble is hotly contested with three races to go in the regular season. In a unique twist, road-course aces make up a large chunk of drivers still aiming to clinch a berth into the 16-driver field, including Michael McDowell, Daniel Suárez and AJ Allmendinger. The drama will surely intensify with the Indianapolis Road Course and Watkins Glen making up two of the final three races.

Entering Indy on Sunday, 12 drivers had locked themselves into the postseason with a victory, leaving four spots still up for grabs. When the field takes the green flag for the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, IMS Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App), a handful of big names still have yet to solidify their playoff position. See who currently sits just above the elimination line, just below and on the outside looking in with stats provided by Racing Insights.

RELATED: Cup standings | Clinching scenarios at Indy



Points above: 58

Trending: Cold

Indy outlook — Hit or Miss: As far as road courses go, Indianapolis might be Wallace’s best. He finished 13th in the inaugural event in 2021 and earned his first top-five finish on a road course last season. However, Wallace has finished 17th or worse in the last three road-course events.


Points above: 3

Trending: Mostly Cold

Indy outlook — Cold Start: Gibbs finished 17th in his first Cup start on the Indy road course, but he owns top 10s in two of the three road-course races this season. Don’t be surprised if he’s running up front on Sunday.



Points below: 3

Trending: Cold

Indy outlook — Hit or Miss: McDowell fell below the top 16 after a 24th-place showing at Michigan. But a pair of road courses upcoming could easily put him back on the positive side of the elimination line. McDowell’s worst finish on a road course this season was 12th at Circuit of The Americas. Last season, McDowell finished eighth at Indy.


Points below: 5

Trending: Michigan Snapped Cold Streak

Indy outlook — Ice Cold: Suárez was caught up in multiple incidents over the last two races on the Indy Road Course. He’s finished no better than 28th on the layout, and he only has a best finish of 22nd on a road course this season (Sonoma).


Points below: 24

Trending: Cold

Indy outlook — Hot: Allmendinger was the inaugural winner of the Indianapolis Road Course race and finished seventh on the circuit last year. However, he has just one top-10 finish on a road course this year — Sonoma (sixth).


Points below: 44

Trending: Cold

Indy outlook — Cold: What was looking like a great points day for Bowman was for naught as an incident in the final stage at Michigan forced the No. 48 Chevrolet to the garage. Bowman is likely in a must-win situation, but the Indy Road Course doesn’t trend in his favor with only a best finish of 17th in the inaugural event.



Points below: 53

Trending: Cold

Indy outlook — Hot: The next two weeks are going to be Cindric’s best chances to earn his way into the postseason. He was the runner-up at Indy last year and is just one of two drivers (Allmendinger) to own top 10s in the first two races on the road course.


Points below: 55

Trending: Cold

Indy outlook — Hit or Miss: A DNF in the first stage at Michigan has put the 2020 Cup champion in a must-win scenario for the final three weeks of the regular season. Luckily for Elliott, he’s one of the best Cup drivers on road courses with top fives on the last two road courses and seven career victories on left-and right-turn tracks.

MORE: Check out NASCAR’s all-time winners on road courses


Points below: 72

Trending: Cold

Indy outlook — Hit or Miss: Haley nearly shocked the Cup Series field after leading late at Chicago before Shane van Gisbergen took control in the final laps. Haley owns a top-10 finish on the Indy Road Course, but he’ll need to find Victory Lane to make the postseason.


Points below: 81

Trending: Mostly Cold

Indy outlook — Cold: Almirola finished 38th (DNF) last year on the Indy Road Course and has 20 consecutive finishes of 12th or worse on road courses.


Points below: 89

Trending: Mostly Cold

Indy outlook — Cold: Preece owns only one Cup start on the Indy Road Course, a 35th-place finish in 2021. He has nine straight finishes of 13th or worse on road courses.