With three races remaining in the NASCAR Cup regular season, the playoff bubble keeps losing air for some.
There are only two ways drivers who remain winless — as well as Joey Logano, whose Richmond win was encumbered — can qualify for the 10-race playoffs:
1) Win one of the next three races (Bristol, Darlington or Richmond).
2) Make the playoffs on points.
As NASCAR leaves Michigan, three winless drivers are on the positive side of the points bubble line: Chase Elliott (62 points to the good), Jamie McMurray (52 points) and Matt Kenseth (31 points).
Even so, there’s no guarantee that one, two or all three will make the playoffs after next month’s Richmond race.
“I think we need a little work and need to get caught up here in a hurry,” Elliott said.
Those outside of a playoff spot are Clint Bowyer (31 points from a playoff spot), Joey Logano (-98), Erik Jones (-130), Daniel Suarez (-139), Trevor Bayne (-214) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-222).
Several of those other drivers did not help their cause Sunday.
Sitting fifth on the final restart, Kenseth cut a tire with two laps to go and finished 24th. As a result, his edge over Bowyer for what would be the final playoff spot slipped significantly.
Bowyer also had his own problems. Not only did he suffer two pit road penalties, he also picked up a tire rub from contact with Austin Dillon on Lap 150 that forced him to pit on the following lap.
Bowyer finished 23rd. Had the incident not happened with Dillon, Bowyer likely could have closed the gap to Kenseth because of the latter’s own problems.
“We didn’t have much go right today,” Bowyer said. “We had something off on our readings, and that led to the two penalties. We were trying to be real conservative on pit road all day. There at the end everyone got slowed up in front of me, and another car turned left over the front of us. That tore our car up pretty good.”
Logano finished two laps down in 28th after cutting a tire on Lap 187, ending any chance of a top-15 finish.
Logano’s cause has gone from frustrating to a virtual sense of urgency – he’s finished 24th or worse in five of his last seven starts.
“I don’t know why we had a flat tire, but maybe we ran something over,” Logano said. “I don’t know. On to the next one. We’ll keep moving.”
Suarez was in a crash on Lap 139 while exiting Turn 2, finishing 37th. It was his first DNF since the season-opening Daytona 500. Kahne, meanwhile, finished 38th, but he’s already in the playoffs.
“It’s just unfortunate because we came from a streak of (top-10s) and now this is going to be the end of it,” said Suarez, who had finished in the top 10 the previous four races.
“We’re going to regroup and come back stronger next week.”