Thursday, 25 July 2024

NASCAR Cup Series playoff battle tightens after strong Michigan runs from Daniel Suarez, Ty Gibbs

Posted On Tuesday, 08 August 2023 00:48 Written by
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Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 car for Trackhouse Racing, competes Monday, August 7, in the Cup series race at Michigan Speedway. A strong run in the race has boosted Suarez’s playoff hopes for 2023. Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 car for Trackhouse Racing, competes Monday, August 7, in the Cup series race at Michigan Speedway. A strong run in the race has boosted Suarez’s playoff hopes for 2023. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Beyond RFK Racing stealing the show at Michigan Speedway on Monday, there were a lot of other story lines to talk about, including some that impacted the playoff battle.

Martin Truex Jr. continues hot streak

Truex was the fastest overall car at Michigan on Sunday/Monday, but in the end he fell one position short in second.

But he has no reason to hang his head. Truex has 3 wins, 9 top-5s, 13 top-10s, only 1 DNF and 5 stage wins this season. He has a dominating lead in the Cup series point standings, leading his closest competitor by 57 points. Unless he collapses or wrecks out at the upcoming road courses and Daytona, he should be our regular season Cup champion and get some extra bonus points for the playoffs.

“We are excited. Every week we feel like we have a shot to win, that is all I can ask for,” Truex said. “It’s exciting to come to the track every weekend knowing what these guys are going to bring me. Hopefully, we can keep it up.”

Kyle Larson’s 5th-place run is lone positive news for Hendrick

Kyle Larson took home the fifth position on Monday, but the overall mood at Hendrick Motorsports is likely to be a bit sour when they do a debrief on the long weekend. That’s because all three of the other Hendrick Cars wrecked out either Sunday or Monday. Alex Bowman finished in 33rd, William Byron in 35th and Chase Elliott in 36th.

Of note: With three races left until the playoffs, the Hendrick team is at risk of half of its four teams miss the playoffs, with both Bowman and Elliott on the outside looking in as of now and likely needing wins to qualify.

Decent runs for Spire cars

Smaller teams can take solace in a decent run, and that was true Monday for both Spire cars, which performed above their usual abilities. Corey Lajoie finished in 15th in the 7 car, and his teammate Ty Dillon came home 20th. In a season they will mostly want to forget, this was a solid day, all things considered.

Playoff cutline tightens up

There was major movement around the playoff cutline, in part due to the strong Michigan performance of Ty Gibbs from the JGR stable. The young driver has jumped up to the final playoff spot as of today, passing Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell.

Looking at the standings, there are 12 winners who are now locked into the playoff field, and four places still to confirm.

Kevin Harvick should lock in next week, as it’s almost impossible for him to lose his playoff spot now, even if we have a new winner next week at the Indy road course.

Also, Keselowski is probably going to qualify even if he doesn’t win. The only way he wouldn’t is if we get three new winners from outside the top 16 in the next three weeks.

So the battle is really for the final two spots now.

Bubba Wallace has had strong runs lately (including leading some laps at Michigan), and seems good on points now. But if he stumbles at the road courses in Indy and Watkins Glen, and his pursuers do well, he could be in trouble. Bubba would also be in big trouble if we get two new winners at the road courses (Chase Elliott and AJ Allmendinger come to mind as potential winners), which would knock Bubba out of the playoffs and put him in a must-win situation at Daytona. It’s going to be a tense few weeks for the 23 team until it all shakes out.

Finally, the current battle for the final playoff spot, which may or may not matter in the end if we get some new winners, is very intense. Gibbs leads McDowell by 3 points, and Daniel Suarez is just 2 points behind McDowell after a great points day and a 6th place finish at Michigan. Lurking a bit further behind Suarez are AJ Allmendinger, always a threat to win at the road courses, and Alex Bowman.

“I feel like we still have maybe one more step to go to be able to win races, but it was definitely a race that we needed, especially heading into two road course races. Now we have a little momentum on our side and I’m optimistic for the final three races of the regular season,” Suarez said after his strong run on Monday.


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Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

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