An Alex Bowman victory, a terrible night for Clint Bowyer, and the return of a seven-time champion has flipped the playoff grid with nine races left in the regular season.
Bowman scored his first career win Sunday night at Chicagoland Speedway and went from having a 70-point advantage on the cutline to clinching a spot in the postseason. It will be the second year Bowman has made an appearance in the playoffs after he qualified for the first time in 2018.
“I can stop watching the points race every week and worrying about trying to be in,” said Bowman. “Obviously, we’re pretty strong in points, but we weren’t locked in by any means. Doing that, I feel like we can just be more aggressive, take more chances. I feel like I can be more aggressive on green flag pit stops and just little things like that that sometimes if you overstep, it completely ruins your day and costs you a ton of points.
“We don’t have to worry as much about that, and I can work on getting ten-tenths out of it so when the playoffs come, I know how hard I can push or can’t push.”
As for the drivers who are still fighting for spots on points, Kevin Harvick remains the best of the rest. Harvick had yet another strong run in a car he nearly won with in Kansas, but just like that night, the No. 4 team encountered trouble late that knocked him down the leaderboard. No worries though; Harvick added points to his already comfortable cushion on the cut line.
But his teammate Clint Bowyer is now the one everyone is shooting for. Bowyer entered Chicago 12th on the grid with a 40-point advantage. After blowing a tire and crashing early, then retiring after additional issues with his No. 14 Ford, Bowyer finished 37th and is now last on the grid.
Johnson goes from being on the outside looking in to snatching a points in Stage 2 and then more with a fourth-place finish. By winning Stage 1, Denny Hamlin added a playoff point to his total while Harvick did the same by winning Stage 2.
Other changes to the grid include Harvick, Kurt Busch, and Blaney all increasing their point advantages on the cutoff line. William Byron and the No. 24 team continue to chase points and gave themselves more breathing room, this week going from 14th to 12th on the grid. Kyle Larson also jumped up a few more spots with Ryan Newman being one of the biggest losers as he went from sitting in the last playoff spot to now out by 20 points.
Here is the playoff grid as it currently stands, with a reminder the grid will be reseeded at the end of the regular season when additional points are awarded to the top 10. Joey Logano is the overall championship point leader.
Kyle Busch: 4 race wins, 25 playoff points
Martin Truex Jr.: 4 race wins, 22 playoff points
Brad Keselowski: 3 race wins, 19 playoff points
Joey Logano: 2 race wins, 16 playoff points
Denny Hamlin: 2 race wins, 13 playoff points
Chase Elliott: 1 race win, 7 playoff points
Alex Bowman: 1 race win, 5 playoff points
Kevin Harvick: +194 on cutoff, 4 playoff points
Kurt Busch: +121 on cutoff, 0 playoff points
Ryan Blaney: + 83 on cutoff, 2 playoff points
Aric Almirola: +66 on cutoff, 0 playoff points
William Byron: +39 on cutoff, 1 playoff point
Kyle Larson: +35 on cutoff, 3 playoff points
Jimmie Johnson: + 20 on cutoff, 0 playoff points
Daniel Suarez: +18 on cutoff, 0 playoff points
Clint Bowyer: +15 on cutoff, 0 playoff points
Below the cutoff line is Erik Jones (-15), Ryan Newman (-20), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-58), and Paul Menard (-62).