Cup, XFINITY teams discuss playoff point approach

Nigel Kinrade/NKPPhoto

By Caleb Whisler, Staff Writer

When NASCAR announce the addition of stage racing back in January, drivers did not know what to expect when it came to approaching earning 20 additional points in the middle of the race. As the season progressed, numerous drivers changed their approach in an effort to maximize the points given during a race.

Last weekend at Darlington Raceway, Martin Truex Jr. was able to clinch the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season championship. In the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Elliott Sadler has the potential to clinch the regular season championship this weekend at Richmond Raceway. In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, there is a tight battle between points leader, Christopher Bell, and Johnny Sauter. The regular season championship will be decided at Chicagoland Speedway next weekend.

For Truex, he has massed four race wins at five playoff points a piece and 17 stage wins. Truex will enter the playoffs with 52 playoff points, pending on what happens this weekend at Richmond.  Truex’s approach to stage racing has not changed.

“It has not changed. It’s absolutely stayed the same. We try to lead every single lap. We try to win every race. We try to win every stage,” said Truex. “That’s – I think the whole field pretty much does, but when you feel like in contention for a lot of those things week in and week out, it’s easier to think that way I guess, but, you know, it’s been a good season.

Truex’s goal is to continue riding on the momentum and staying up front to gain those points.

“We’ve been up front a lot and the more you win – the more things you win – the more greedy you get and the more you want, so just – it’s just the way it was. Winning is fun. Everybody wants to do it. That’s why we’re all here. Just trying to keep riding the wave of momentum,” said Truex.

For Clint Bowyer, it is the mentality of having to win coming into Richmond. Bowyer has been close this season, but has been unable to secure the victory. As a driver, Bowyer is trying his best to manage his equipment to be there for the end, but that somewhat goes to the wayside with stage racing.

They’re very important as we’ve seen all season long and as we’re gonna see as soon as the Playoffs start, even furthermore when Truex has pretty much got a free ride to the championship or an opportunity,” said Bowyer. ”They’re very important.  They’re alive.  They’re real.  We feel it each and every week and each and every stage you’re going and taking every chance you can, every strategy call or anything else to try to get those points.”

Without having a win so far this season, Sadler sits at the top of the points standings because of consistency. Sadler believes that the team needs to focus on getting those playoff points.

“We have gotten ourselves in a pretty good position in points. We are already locked into the playoffs. We feel really good about our chances of being the regular season champions, where we get the 15 bonus points. We feel like we have done a really good job as a team. It’s our job to get some more bonus points for the playoffs. That is what we need. We are kinda getting beat in that right now. We need to win some more stages, take chances, be more aggressive, or put ourselves in position to win a race. That’s our goal moving forward. We are gonna try to get all the points we can moving forward.

In the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Kelly Earnhardt Miller, co-owner of JR Motorsports, believes the organization is ready and in place to attack the playoffs.

“I think we are really well situated for the playoffs. We obviously would like to have some more wins with Elliott getting a win and Michael. I think being 1-2-3 in the points here,” said Miller. “Obviously, none of that matters to the playoffs. I think we are well-positioned to get in that final four with all the cars, if not, at least two like we did last year. I think we are in really good shape.”

As the first season under this new competitive formats winds down, this was a learning season all around for drivers and teams about how to approach stage racing.

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