Playoff Points: Bristol I Edition

Chris Owens/Action Sports Photography

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Following each regular season points race, Kickin’ the Tires takes a deep look at the current playoff grids for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, evaluating each team’s postseason odds and highlighting those that made steps in the right direction, as well as those who dug themselves into a hole. 

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway

Event: Food City 500

Race Winner: Jimmie Johnson

Stage Winner(s): Kyle Larson, Martin Truex, Jr.

Who Won Big

  • Jimmie Johnson: Two races removed from one of the worst starts to the season in his 16-year career, Johnson suddenly finds himself tied for the most playoff points (10) after tallying back-to-back victories at Texas Motor Speedway and Bristol. Equally important, Johnson scored a paddock best 54 points including stages to jump five competitors into a tie with Jamie McMurray for sixth in the regular season standings, a leap that could pay additional playoff point benefits down the line.
  • Clint Bowyer: Already on the right side of the bubble by a good margin, Bowyer parlayed second-place finish into 35 points to add to his postseason cushion. The Kansas native doesn’t yet have any playoff points, but sits 71 points ahead of the cutoff in eighth.
  • Matt Kenseth: Talk about a much-needed run. Kenseth rallied late to a fourth-place finish on Monday, scoring 33 points and continuing to close the gap on the postseason grid. After crashing three times in the opening five weeks, the Wisconsinite has risen from 25th to 20th in the series standings with two top 10s and a 16th-place run in the past three races. There’s still work to do for the 2003 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion to get to victory lane, but with just 25 points separating him and the playoff bubble, a postseason bid finally appears within reach.
  • Roush Fenway Racing (RFR): They didn’t light the world on fire by any means, but RFR teammates Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Trevor Bayne earned finishes of ninth and 11th, respectively, to continue a streak of good runs that’s seen the two drivers become legitimate playoff contenders. Bayne continues to find himself in the preliminary field, 24 points ahead of the cut in 12th, while Stenhouse sits just 16 points out in 16th.

Who Hurt Their Odds:

  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: All talk is currently aimed at NASCAR’s most popular driver’s retirement, but Earnhardt’s postseason hopes took a major hit on Monday when a fluid leak left him careening into the outside wall. Earnhardt finished 38th at Bristol, and now finds himself 50 markers out of the playoff field in 24th. A berth on points isn’t impossible, but the Hendrick Motorsports shoe is rapidly running out of mulligans.
  • Kyle Busch: It’s difficult to consider Busch anything but a lock, but the 2015 MENCS champion certainly called that thinking into question as two flat tires relegated him to a 35th-place finish on Monday. ‘Rowdy’ is still winless, and now sits 11th in the standings, just 46 points to the good. He’s probably still fine, but Busch could use some solid runs or a win to ease the minds of his supporters.
  • Ryan Blaney: The issues his No. 21 Ford faced were out of his control, but Blaney’s 33rd-place performance did anything but help his playoff odds. Much like Busch, the 23-year-old is still in a good place, 60 points ahead of the current cut line in 10th, but the North Carolinian can’t afford to give away too many more points as some drivers beyond the cut line contend for victories.

Playoff Standings: 

Jimmie Johnson joined Brad Keselowski with two victories after scoring his second-consecutive win at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Photo: Lesley Ann Miller/NKP)

Rank Driver Wins Points Ahead/Behind Cutoff
1 Brad Keselowski 2 109
2 Jimmie Johnson 2 76
3 Kyle Larson 1 192
4 Martin Truex, Jr. 1 155
5 Ryan Newman 1 18
6 Kurt Busch 1 -21
7 Chase Elliott 0 165
8 Joey Logano 0 123
9 Jamie McMurray 0 76
10 Clint Bowyer 0 71
11 Kevin Harvick 0 71
12 Ryan Blaney 0 60
13 Kyle Busch 0 46
14 Trevor Bayne 0 24
15 Erik Jones 0 24
16 Denny Hamlin 0 16
Playoff Cutoff
17 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 0 -16
18 Kasey Kahne 0 -20
19 Aric Almirola 0 -23
20 Matt Kenseth 0 -25
21 Austin Dillon 0 -30
22 Daniel Suarez 0 -40
23 Ty Dillon 0 -40
24 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 0 -50
25 Paul Menard 0 -57
26 AJ Allmendinger 0 -68
27 Michael McDowell 0 -82
28 Cole Whitt 0 -90
29 Chris Buescher 0 -90
30 Danica Patrick 0 -93

Where They Stand

(All But) Locked In

  • Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch
    • Race Winners
  • Chase Elliott, Joey Logano
    • Both drivers hold a healthy advantage in the standings and have a track record that indicates they aren’t likely to drop.

Safe (For Now)

  • Jamie McMurray, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick
    • Blaney and Busch endured bad outings in Bristol, but still own a healthy advantage.
    • Bowyer climbs into the safe category after padding his playoff advantage with a second-place run. Given his recent success, a victory could be on the horizon.
    • On a similar token, Harvick’s third-place strategy play elevated him to an advantage in the standings that, paired with his recent track record, bodes well for the Californian moving forward.

More Work to Do

  • N/A (for now)

On the Bubble

  • Trevor Bayne, Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin
    • Jones did well to overcome early issues for a 17th-place result. It wasn’t pretty, but kept the Michigander on the right side of the playoff cut.

Clint Bowyer and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. both helped their playoff odds on Monday. (Photo: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP)

Within Reach 

  • Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola, Matt Kenseth, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
    • Suarez, Ty Dillon and Earnhardt are all still within a race’s allotment of points (including stage points), but are heading in the wrong direction. Any more issues, and each of these drivers could find themselves in dire need of a trip to victory lane.

Likely Need to Win

  • Paul Menard, AJ Allmendinger, Michael McDowell, Cole Whitt, Chris Buescher, Danica Patrick
    • Any hopes AJ Allmendinger had of overcoming his 35-point penalty leaving Atlanta Motor Speedway to point his way into the playoffs were likely dashed with a result of 30th in the Food City 500. Allmendinger now finds himself 68 points out, with a bevy of talented stars separating him from 15th-place Hamlin.

Playoff Points

Rank Driver Playoff Points
1 (tie) Brad Keselowski 10
1 (tie) Martin Truex, Jr. 10 (+1)
1 (tie) Jimmie Johnson 10 (+5)
4 Kyle Larson 7 (+1)
5 (tie) Ryan Newman 5
5 (tie) Kurt Busch 5
7 Kevin Harvick 3
8 (tie) Chase Elliott 2
8 (tie) Ryan Blaney 2
10 (tie) Joey Logano 1
10 (tie) Kyle Busch 1

Stage Points

Stage 1 Stage 2    
Pos. Driver Points Pos. Driver Points
1 Kyle Larson 10 (+1 Playoff) 1 Martin Truex, Jr. 10 (+1 Playoff)
2 Martin Truex, Jr. 9 2 Joey Logano 9
3 Erik Jones 8 3 Kevin Harvick 8
4 Joey Logano 7 4 Jimmie Johnson 7
5 Jimmie Johnson 6 5 Jamie McMurray 6
6 Chase Elliott 5 6 Erik Jones 5
7 Jamie McMurray 4 7 Kyle Larson 4
8 Denny Hamlin 3 8 Denny Hamlin 3
9 AJ Allmendinger 2 9 Trevor Bayne 2
10 Kyle Busch 1 10 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 1

Season Totals

1. Kyle Larson Chip Ganassi Racing 101 2
2. Martin Truex Jr. Furniture Row Racing 92 5
3. Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports 90 2
4. Brad Keselowski Team Penske 82 0
t-5. Ryan Blaney Wood Brothers Racing 61 2
t-5. Jamie McMurray Chip Ganassi Racing 61 0
7. Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing 58 3
8. Joey Logano Team Penske 56 1
9. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing 55 1
10. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Motorsports 51 0
11. Erik Jones Furniture Row Racing 32 0
12. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing 26 0
t-13. Ryan Newman Richard Childress Racing 19 0
t-13. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hendrick Motorsports 19 0
t-13. Clint Bowyer Stewart-Haas Racing 19 0
16. Kurt Busch Stewart-Haas Racing 13 0
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Roush Fenway Racing 8 0
t-18. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Racing 7 0
t-18. Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing 7 0
t-18. AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Racing 7 0
21. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Racing 6 0
22. Trevor Bayne Roush Fenway Racing 5 0
23. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Motorsports 1 0

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