BROOKLYN, Mich. — Martin Truex Jr. is out of a playoff spot. Ryan Blaney could be next. With three races left in the regular season, including a finale at Daytona, NASCAR’s unpredictable year heads toward a postseason that could be invitation only.
Winners only, that is.
Kevin Harvick became the 15th different winner this season Sunday, knocking Truex out of the playoffs. It’s one former champion replacing another.
MORE: Michigan results, driver points
With Truex’s departure, Blaney is the only winless driver among the 16 in a playoff position for now. Should a driver without a win (and in the top 30 in points) win any of the three next races, Blaney would be out.
Truex, who has made it to the championship race five of the last six years, fought through an up-and-down day on the way to finishing sixth Sunday.
“Mostly frustrated about our car on restarts, just crazy time on restarts and in traffic,” he said. “That really ended our chances at winning. We had pretty decent speed at times.”
At one point in the race, Truex raised questions about the team’s strategy with crew chief James Small.
“I thought we were on one strategy, and then we lost some spots on restart and we switched strategies and gave up stage points to try to do the other one,” Truex said. “Then we’re gonna pit again, and I was just kind of confused.
“(Small) is doing his best up there. We just need to be faster. We need to figure this thing out a little bit better, and I need to do a better job on the wheel.”
#NASCAR … Kevin Harvick’s win knocks Martin Truex Jr out of a playoff spot. Here is what Truex had to say after the race. pic.twitter.com/GD7Lc0uE4S
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) August 8, 2022
Blaney had his struggles much of the day, complaining about the car’s handling until strategy worked his way and he finished fifth. He leads Truex by 19 points for the final playoff spot.
“It’s a shame that another car won,” Blaney said. “I’m happy for Ford for winning, but we didn’t need (Harvick) to win. We’ll just try to win the next few weeks and battle (Truex) in points. It’ll be exciting, that’s for sure, so hopefully we can do it.”
The series heads to Richmond this coming weekend. That used to be Blaney’s worst track, but he won the pole there in the spring, won the first stage and led a race-high 122 laps before finishing seventh. Truex won the second stage, led 80 laps and finished fourth there earlier this season.
“We just try to build off of that and what did we need later in the race to try to stay up there,” Blaney said of the focus going into Richmond. “Hopefully, those things apply and we can turn around and make it even better and contend. That’s all you can do.”