The race to make the chase is wide-open with just three events remaining in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season.
And the results of Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400, that battle may simply come down to which driver makes the fewest mistakes across the remaining events at Bristol, Darlington and Indianapolis.
Entering the weekend, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman were tied for the 16th spot, but were both behind Clint Bowyer, who has been floundering for much of the past two months. Johnson and Bowyer both endured a disastrous result in the Irish Hills.
Johnson immediately ran into problems when he hit the wall on Lap 15. The damage lingered to the point it punctured a tire several laps later, prompting a trip back down pit road to complete the repair process. He was seven laps down by the end of the first stage and never recobered.
He finished 34th — the third time in his last five starts that Johnson has finished 30th or worse.
“I was racing (Clint Bowyer) and working the outside of him and he was working to take the air away from me,” Johnson said. “I got my right sides in the traction compound and it just wasn’t working yet. As soon as I got my tires into it they went straight into the wall.”
It’s the second race in a row with new crew chief Cliff Daniels that Johnson felt like he didn’t capitalize on what the team gave him.
“Aggressive and it doesn’t work and sometimes we’re cautious and it doesn’t work,” he said. “Great car. Just really bummed. That really hurt for sure. Have to rally on. These guys are doing an amazing job. Just keep digging.”
And now, as a result, the seven-time champion is at-risk on missing the playoffs for the first time in his career. This result dropped him to 18th in the standings and 12 points out of a spot on the grid. He’s behind Daniel Suarez, who jumped to 17th and just five spots out of a playoff spot thanks to a fifth-place run.
Bowyer got tagged by Paul Menard on Lap 137 and that sent him into the wall – and ultimately out of the race.
So, Bowyer went from having an opportunity to build some space between himself, Newman and Johnson for the final playoff spot, to being right in the proverbial furnace.
“You can talk about the bubble and worrying about points but I am way more worried about getting established and running up front at these types of race tracks,” Bowyer said. “If you make the playoffs and can’t compete in it then what is the use?
“We have some things to work out. We have some time. We have some good race tracks for us including Bristol coming up. We have plenty of racing (left) but we have to get some things figured out.”
The playoff grid with three races remaining in the regular season can be viewed below.
14. Erik Jones +70
15. Ryan Newman +16
16. Clint Bowyer +5
17. Daniel Suarez -6
18. Jimmie Johnson -12
19. Paul Menard -53
20. Chris Buescher -73
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