The lack of drama leading up to the 2018 Cup Series playoffs is palpable.
There’s a great chance that all but one spot in the 16-driver field will be clinched heading into the Sept. 9 race at Indianapolis. Entering Sunday’s race at Darlington, 12 drivers know for sure that they’re playoff-bound. Nine of those clinches are via wins. Three are via points.
Kevin Harvick (7 wins)
Kyle Busch (6 wins)
Martin Truex Jr. (4 wins)
Clint Bowyer (2 wins)
Kurt Busch (1 win)
Joey Logano (1 win)
Chase Elliott (1 win)
Erik Jones (1 win)
Austin Dillon (1 win)
Ryan Blaney (points)
Brad Keselowski (points)
Kyle Larson (points)
Pretty straightforward, eh?
Almost locked in
Johnson is currently the second-to-last driver in the playoff field. The most points a driver can earn in a race is 60, meaning Hamlin and Almirola are likely in the playoffs after Sunday night. If a driver not in the locked in the category above doesn’t win on Sunday, all Hamlin and Almirola have to do is be ahead of Johnson by 61 or more points after the race.
That should be doable for Hamlin. Almirola will just need to outpoint Johnson by seven.
Johnson gets into this category because of what it would take to knock him out of the playoffs. The only way he gets knocked out is if two winless drivers below him in the standings take wins at Darlington and Indianapolis. Or if one winless driver below him in the standings wins and Alex Bowman passes him in the standings.
On the precipice
Alex Bowman, 572 points
Bowman is the guy who is in the most jeopardy. And that may not be much. Sure, it’s possible that a longshot could win at Darlington or Indianapolis — look at Kasey Kahne’s improbable win at Indianapolis in 2017 — but it’s not likely. All Bowman has to do is stay afloat at Darlington and hope that a winless driver below him in the standings doesn’t win at Indianapolis. He’s “clinched” for the playoffs if he enters Indy with a 61-point lead (or more) on the drivers below him because all he has to do is need a driver already locked into the playoffs to not win.
Needing a win
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 493 points
Ryan Newman, 481 points
Daniel Suarez, 479 points
Paul Menard, 473 points
These four drivers have to have some incredible fortune while also having Bowman stumble. Of course, a win would mean automatic qualification for the playoffs, but have you seen winning speed from any of the four guys above? You haven’t. A win from anyone in this category or anyone else not mentioned in this post would be a massive upset.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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