BY JONATHAN FJELD AND JOSEPH EIGO
LONG POND, PA – With only five regular-season races left, the fight to get in the playoffs is scorching hot.
At Pocono, some drivers helped their cause, like Bubba Wallace and Ty Gibbs.
Gibbs and Wallace finished fifth and 11th, earning the fourth-and-sixth-most points respectively Sunday.
Wallace placed seventh and ninth in the stages. Those six stage points boosted Wallace from +2 points to the cutline to +27 in 15th.
Between a seventh-place effort in stage two and a career-best fifth-place finish, Gibbs gained 13 points on the cutline.
Now at -28 points in 19th, the Rookie of the Year candidate could make the playoffs.
Back above the cutline, Michael McDowell earned five stage points and finished 19th, which helped him move from +1 to the cutline to +17 in 16th.
What really helped was a key moment in the race.
After that wreck at the start of stage two, Daniel Suarez’s team tried fixing the car. However, the damage was terminal and Suarez’s day ended on lap 37.
Suarez is now 18th in points, -23 to the cutline. He doesn’t need a win to get into the playoffs but every stage will count over the next five weeks.
Because of Suarez’s issues, A.J. Allmendinger is now the first driver below the cutline at -17 points in 17th. He finished 17th and earned six points for finishing fifth in stage one.
After earning six points in stage two, Alex Bowman was running fourth with 11 to go. More importantly, he was also about to gain 17 points and be -25 to the cutline.
Bowman lost 20 points and fell to -46 to the cutline, 20th in points, because of the wreck.
Still, he has another opportunity next week at Richmond where he has won once before.
Another Hendrick Motorsports car battling to get into the playoffs is the No.9 of Chase Elliott who finished 10th Sunday.
Elliott gained two spots in points but didn’t earn any stage points. Because of that, he only gained four points and is now -56 to the cutline, 21st in points.
On the other end, however, Justin Haley dropped from two spots in points and lost 16 points to where he is now 23rd, -62 to the cutline.
While he entered Pocono with two consecutive top-10 finishes and placed eighth in stage one, he wrecked out with just three laps to go and finished 33rd.
Austin Cindric sits 22nd in the points standings. While he didn’t lose or gain any spots, he lost nine points and is -60 to the cutline.
15. Bubba Wallace (465 points, +27 points to the cutline)
16. Michael McDowell (455, +17)
17. A.J. Allmendinger (438, -17)
18. Daniel Suarez (432, -23)
19. Ty Gibbs (427, -28)
20. Alex Bowman (409, -46)
21. Chase Elliott (399, -56)
22. Austin Cindric (395, -60)
23. Justin Haley (393, -62)
Elliott, Bowman, Gibbs and McDowell jump out from the pack. While Elliott didn’t race the spring race, the others finished in the top-10 in the spring.
Elliott stands out as, in the last 10 races, he has averaged around 35 points per race – and 34 in the Gen 7 era.
What Elliott doesn’t have is a win at Richmond, unlike teammate Bowman who won in spring 2021. Bowman has also averaged around 29 points per race in the Gen 7 era and 28 in the last 10 races.
Gibbs only has two Richmond starts in the Cup Series but one of them was a ninth-place finish in the spring when he earned 29 points.
Allmendinger will have some work to do as he will start from the rear. While he is racing at Road America in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Derek Kraus will practice and qualifying his Cup Series car Saturday.
Among the bubble drivers, he has the fifth-best average finish (22.1) in his starts at Richmond. He has also averaged the least amount of points of any bubble drivers.
However, Allmendinger believes Kaulig Racing has turned a corner recently with their performance. The results back it up as Allmendinger has only finished outside of the top 20 once in the 11 races since Dover, compared to five times in the first 10 races.
Here is how the others stack up:
|Driver||Avg. points (Last 10 races)||Avg. points (Gen 7 era)|
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Richmond Raceway for the second time this season July 24. For drivers on the playoff bubble, another urgent race goes green just after 3 p.m. ET.