Many drivers fighting to make playoffs lose ground at Michigan

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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.”

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NASCAR Open starting lineup at Bristol

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Michael McDowell will start on the pole for the NASCAR Open at Bristol Motor Speedway after a random draw. Aric Almirola joins him on the front row.

Click here for NASCAR Open starting lineup

The winners of each segment advance to the All-Star Race, along with the fan vote winner. Last year, Kyle Larson won a segment in the Open to advance to the All-Star Race and then won that event. Other segment winners last year were William Byron and Bubba Wallace. Alex Bowman advanced through the fan vote a year ago. Bowman has already qualified for this year’s All-Star Race.

 

NASCAR Open at Bristol 

Race Time: 7 p.m. ET Wednesday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (0.533-mile speedway)

Length: 85 laps over three segments, 45.3 miles

Segments: Segment 1 is 35 laps. Segment 2 is 35 laps. Segment 3 is 15 laps.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: Saturday at Texas (200 laps, 300 miles), 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Next Truck race: Saturday at Texas (167 laps, 250.5 miles) 8 p.m. ET on FS1

Martin Truex Jr. to start on pole for All-Star Race at Bristol

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Martin Truex Jr., who is seeking his first All-Star Race win, will start on the pole for Wednesday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway after a random draw.

Truex will be joined on the front row by Alex Bowman.

Rookie Cole Custer, who earned a spot in the All-Star Race with his win Sunday at Kentucky, will start eighth.

Click here for All-Star Lineup

  • Positions 17-19 will go to segment winners from the NASCAR Open. The 20th starting spot goes to the fan vote winner, which will be announced after the NASCAR Open

Among the special rules for the race:

# The Chose Rule will be used. As drivers approach a designated spot on the track, they must commit to the inside or outside lane for the restart.

# The car number will move from the door toward the rear wheel to give sponsors more exposure.

# Cars that have automatically qualified for the All-Star Race will have underglow lights on their cars.

 

NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol 

Race Time: 8:30 p.m. ET Wednesday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (0.533-mile speedway)

Length: 140 laps over four segments, 74.6 miles

Segments: Segment 1 is 55 laps. Segment 2 is 35 laps. Segment 3 is 35 laps. Segment 4 is 15 laps (only green flag laps count in this segment).

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: Saturday at Texas (200 laps, 300 miles), 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Next Truck race: Saturday at Texas (167 laps, 250.5 miles) 8 p.m. ET on FS1

Xfinity playoff grid after Kentucky doubleheader

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The Xfinity Series went to Kentucky Speedway for a doubleheader and Austin Cindric left the track with two wins and a spot in the playoffs.

Cindric, who claimed the first oval track NASCAR wins of his career, is now third on the playoff grid among the six drivers locked into the postseason. He has 15 playoff points.

Noah Gragson, who is second on the grid, won three of four stages in Kentucky and has 18 playoff points.

Six spots remain to be filled on the playoff grid. The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Ryan Sieg (+57 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+14).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-14 points from cutline), Jeremy Clements (-30), Alex Labbe (-42) and Jesse Little (-47).

Cup playoff grid after Kentucky Speedway

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Cole Custer delivered the first curveball to the NASCAR Cup Series’ playoff chase Sunday when he won at Kentucky Speedway.

Custer entered the race 25th in the points, nine spots back from the cutoff line for 16-driver field.

Now, Custer is one of nine drivers locked into the playoffs, meaning the cutoff for the postseason is 15th in points.

Among those currently in the playoff grid who are not locked in, the last two are William Byron (+30 points) and Jimmie Johnson (+24).

The first four drivers sitting outside a playoff spot are Austin Dillon (-24 points from cutoff), Tyler Reddick (-41), Erik Jones (-42) and Bubba Wallace (-84).