With 15 drivers having won a Cup Series race this season and only one playoff spot available for non-winners, the battle for the final playoff berth is a two-man race between Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. unless a new winner – who is a full-time driver and not Blaney or Truex – emerges one or both of the next two weekends.
While neither Blaney nor Truex is in a safe spot, Blaney is undoubtedly positioned better than Truex after stretching what had been a 19-point cushion over Truex to a 26-point cushion this past weekend at Richmond. Blaney also dodged a bullet of sorts, given that Richmond is historically not one of his best tracks but a place where Truex had triumphed on three previous occasions.
So does Blaney feel any better now about his playoff chances than he did before the Richmond race? “I don’t know,” the Team Penske driver told FOX Sports shortly after the race ended. “You never know what can happen. You could have a bad day next week or the next two weeks, we could have a new winner one of those weeks – you just never know. So I don’t feel better or worse about it. It’s just one race down, and I’m proud of the effort that we had, and I’ll try to do the same thing next week.”
Truex, who said before the race that he thought it was his best chance at a win in the final three regular season races, seemed dumbfounded by his quiet seventh-place finish. “Honestly, (the car) was nothing like yesterday,” Truex, speaking with multiple reporters after the race, said in reference to practice and qualifying. “I don’t know. We’re kind of at a loss right now thinking about why.” At least Watkins Glen, site of Sunday’s next-to-last race of the regular season, is another place where Truex has been to Victory Lane. But Blaney is no slouch on road courses, either. So buckle your seatbelt. The battle rages.