After next week’s race on the Charlotte Roval, four drivers will no longer be part of the playoff picture.
Both analysts agreed that Denny Hamlin has a tough road in front of him. A tough, twisty road at that.
“I don’t know if I want to blame it on the 11 team or Denny, but Denny Hamlin doesn’t run 16th at Richmond very often,” Landon Cassill said. “They definitely had struggles and you can’t come off a low confidence like that into this new race track.”
Likewise, Hamlin’s teammate Erik Jones is one of the least likely drivers to advance. Jones is 21 points below the cutoff line with three drivers between him and advancement.
“I love the speed (Jones) brought into Vegas,” Kligerman said. “They were so impressive – all the way up to that point where he ends up in a wreck in the race. … At Richmond, they looked solid at points, but you can’t have the mistakes that they had on pit road and hope to recover.”
They were split on Johnson. Kligerman believes Johnson will be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat.
“We get into the Vegas race and I saw the magic that is the 48 – things I’ve seen them do before where suddenly the car that was not probably at any point in practice showing any sort of top-20 speed … is in the top five,” Kligerman said.
Cassill was not convinced.
“It breaks my heart to bet against Jimmie Johnson,” Landon Cassill said. “But Jimmie is a creature of habit and he … and that team does really well when they can continue on these race tracks where they have a good database and they have good notes.”
Johnson’s notebook will be empty at the Charlotte Roval, along with everybody else.
Sitting on the bubble in 12th, Ryan Blaney is in a precarious position.
“I’m worried for the 12 car,” Kligerman said. “They were doing everything they needed to not be in the position they are in right now, but now they’re heading to the Roval. … Every time we saw the highlights (from testing at Charlotte), we had the 12 car hitting the wall.”
Since racing is a zero sum game, one more driver has to be in jeopardy if Kligerman’s pick Johnson manages to advance into the top 12. The driver he is most likely to displace is Alex Bowman.
“If the 48 is going in, he is going out,” Kligerman said. “I think Alex Bowman has done a commendable job this year … but knowing this is a road course, knowing he is five points up right now – that’s a tough position.”
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