The days of top-10 finishes or crashes are the obvious ones that can impact a driver’s bid to make the playoffs but it is the less obvious finishes that can mean just as much, if not more.
Overshadowed by Denny Hamlin’s victory, Erik Jones again coming close and Joe Gibbs Racing going 1-2-3, was Clint Bowyer‘s drive in the final laps of Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway and how that could play a key role if he makes the playoffs.
Bowyer, who had an up-and-down day, was eighth on a restart four laps from the scheduled end but dropped to 18th before the caution came out for an incident involving Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael McDowell.
Stuck that far back, Stewart-Haas Racing crew chief Mike Bugarewicz decided to have Bowyer pit for four tires. Most of the lead-lap cars stayed out. Bowyer restarted overtime 20th.
He rallied to finish 11th.
That’s nine points Bowyer gained in overtime. He left Pocono 12 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, the first driver outside a playoff spot.
“That was a long hard day,” Bowyer said. “We were up and down. It was so tough to pass, so everything boiled down to fuel and tire strategy.”
The 11th-place result marked Bowyer’s second finish of 11th or better in the last five races. When the series left Pocono in June, he was 10th in points and seemed to be a safe pick to make the playoffs but accidents ended his race early at Michigan (35th), Chicagoland (37th) and Daytona (34th), putting him in a spot where every position — and point — is critical to his playoff hopes.
Five races remain in the regular season before the playoff field is set. The Cup series races this weekend at Watkins Glen (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and then goes to Michigan, Bristol, Darlington and Indianapolis before the playoffs begin Sept. 15 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.