The battle for the last few NASCAR Cup Series playoff berths is heating up. With just seven races to go before the 16-driver playoff grid is officially locked in at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, eleven drivers are locked in by virtue of winning at least one race this year, which essentially leaves five spots still up for grabs over the next seven races. Among the drivers who haven’t been to Victory Lane, series veterans Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are also all but assured of playoff entry based on the number of points they’ve accumulated. In fact, Hamlin — despite being winless — is technically the points leader, so there’s no way he won’t get a playoff berth.
But behind Hamlin and Harvick, the scenario gets really interesting. As it currently stands, the rest of the playoff grid would be filled out by Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kurt Busch. But Chris Buescher sits just three points behind Busch, and several others — including Daniel Suarez, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bubba Wallace and Matt DiBenedetto — are all within striking distance. And, of course, if one of the drivers who has yet to win this year goes to Victory Lane over the next seven weeks, that means one less spot will be available for a non-winner to make the playoffs based on points.
Sunday’s race, which is being contested on a road course where most Cup drivers have never competed in any type of vehicle, provides a potentially golden opportunity for an underdog to score a victory and really shake up the battle around the playoff bubble. So stay tuned. Both Sunday and the next several weeks are going to be really interesting.