For each of the four drivers who are looking for a playoff spot this weekend at Indianapolis, there is a battle within the playoff battle.
Take Clint Bowyer. At 15th on the grid, Bowyer can afford no mistakes as he has just an eight-point advantage on the cutline. Making the playoffs would be a bright spot for Bowyer in a season that has had many ups and downs, whereas not making it would mean Bowyer has failed to qualify in two of his three seasons with SHR (he surprisingly missed the postseason in 2017).
“It’s pretty clear cut what we have to do if we want to get into the playoffs,” said Bowyer. “We are confident. We ran well at Indy last year and we’ll need to do it again. This is what the playoff format was designed to do. I mean, I wish we were more secure, but it’s going to be a hell of a show with a bunch of us racing hard to get in.”
The scenario for Bowyer: Would clinch with a win or with 48 points a new winner. If there is a repeat winner (or a win by Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, William Byron, or Aric Almirola) he would clinch on 46 points.
Behind Bowyer comes another SHR driver, Daniel Suarez. He holds down the final playoff spot on a tiebreaker with Ryan Newman. Making the playoffs would be huge for Suarez because he has never done so previously in his Cup Series career. Suarez would guarantee himself a career-best finish in the point standings.
“I live for pressure, that’s why I’m here,” said Suarez. “I feel like if you’re a race car driver and you don’t like pressure, you’re in the wrong business. As a driver, you always have pressure, whether it’s from sponsors to perform, the playoffs or something else.”
The scenario for Suarez: Would clinch with a win. If there is a repeat winner (or a win by Larson, Blaney, Byron, Almirola, or Bowyer), he would clinch on 54 points. He could also clinch on points with a new winner outside of the top 16 and help.
Bowyer and Suarez are in, that’s the good news. But they need to hold off Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson for 160 laps in Indy to keep them. And Newman and Johnson aren’t going down without a fight.
Newman is no stranger to the postseason or unlikely title runs. Who remembers him coming from nowhere to finish second to Kevin Harvick in 2014? But if Newman were to qualify for the ’19 edition of the playoffs, it would be the first time since 2006 with Mark Martin that the No. 6 team has been in the postseason.
“We’ve shown all season we have a lot of fight, and we don’t give up, so we’re going to continue that at Indy,” said Newman. “Going back home to Indiana is always special for me and is a place that has been good to us over the years. We’re going to give it everything we have this weekend in our Acorns Ford.”
The scenario for Newman: Would clinch with a win. If there is a repeat winner, he would clinch on point with 54 points. He could also clinch with a new winner outside the top 16 and help.
Then there is Seven-Time. Time is up for Jimmie Johnson. His playoff streak either remains intact or he learns what it feels like to not be a part of the postseason for the first time. There is not much else to write about Johnson and the No. 48 team — his struggles, hunger, fight to persevere, and everything in-between has been well documented.
“Our Ally team displayed a tremendous effort in Darlington,” said Johnson. “We have a great thing going right now on our team – everyone is pulling in the right direction. There is some pressure to go out and win this weekend, but that is what we do every weekend. We go to a track with the intention to contend for wins. If I look back over the first half of the season, I see a lot of races where we gave away a few points. It’s kind of unfair to put all the pressure on one race in Indy, but that is where we are right now. It’s a great track to win at. We know what we have to do this weekend.”
The scenario for Johnson: Win. Sure, Johnson can clinch a place on points, but that requires help. Johnson would need to have a great day to erase his 18-point deficit while hoping his competitors have bad days. Winning for the first time in over two years is the easiest way for Johnson to make the playoffs.
As for everyone else behind Johnson in points, they too can only earn a playoff spot by winning Sunday afternoon.
In the Xfinity Series, Tyler Reddick can lock up the regular-season championship this weekend. Reddick leads Christopher Bell by 51 points and will clinch the title if he leaves Indianapolis with a lead of 61 points or more.
Reddick, Bell, Cole Custer, Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, and Michael Annett are already locked into the postseason on wins. Two drivers, Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson, have also clinched spots through points. Indianapolis and Las Vegas are the last two races in the Xfinity Series regular season.