NASCAR America: Playoff crew chiefs look back at Martinsville, prepare for Texas

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Even though Kyle Busch left Martinsville with a 46-point advantage over the cutoff line, crew chief Adam Steven is cautious about how the playoff picture is shaping up entering Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

But that team is not the only one with questions with two races left to determine the drivers who will race for the championship in Miami.

Clint Bowyer, who is 42 points behind the cutoff line, practically needs to win to advance to Miami.

NASCAR America’s Kelli Stavast visited the shops of three playoff teams and talked to crew chiefs about what went right at Martinsville, what went wrong and their outlook for the remainder of the Round of 8.

Busch was one of the favorites to win last week’s race after securing the pole and running well in practice. He finished fourth. Stevens does not consider a trip to championship spot entirely safe.

“The cutline is flexible,” Stevens told NASCAR America. “It depends on how many (playoff) winners and non-(playoff) winners we have. We know for a fact there’s going to be one car get in on points, but it might only be one and it could be three. If someone could tell me what that number is going to be, I’d feel a lot better about it. The main thing is we try to keep that lead over the 78 and the 4.”

While Busch can be encouraged by a strong Martinsville run, Bowyer had a series of misfortunes that left him a lap off the pace in 21st. It was the third time in the playoffs that he finished outside the top 20.

The team expected to contend for the victory, given its win at Martinsville in March.

“It was way more of a struggle than we were anticipating,” Bowyer’s crew chief Mike Bugarewicz said. “Qualifying well, really competitive in practice, really close in setup. … That car pretty much sat in the corner ready to go back to (Martinsville); never raced anywhere else all year. We were a little shocked.

“I’m some senses I really felt like in the position we were in, no matter what, you were going to have to win one of these races to move on. I don’t think our position approaching the next two races really changes. Gotta just try and win one if we can.”

Chase Elliott entered Martinsville fourth in the standings, three points above the cutline. He finished in the top 10 (seventh), but left the short track 31 points behind.

When Stavast visited the Hendrick Motorsports’ shop, Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson told her if a team is too stressed out or anxious, it’s just a sign they are preparing for failure.

Elliott has a strong record at both Texas (four top 10s in five starts) and Phoenix (second last fall, third this spring), so they expect to be very relaxed.

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