A technicality doesn‘t set the mentality.
Kurt Busch, sitting eighth in the NASCAR Playoffs standings, is currently the only title-eligible driver who must win at Martinsville Speedway this Sunday to qualify for the Championship 4. There‘s no way he can point his way into the final round. It‘s a true must-win situation.
“We need to go win,” said Chase Elliott, who‘s tied for fifth, right below the cutoff. “That‘s really the bottom line. I‘m not even going to look at the points because, in my opinion, it doesn‘t really matter. If you can‘t win races and win consistently in the series, then you‘re not going to the championship anyway.”
Technically, Elliott doesn‘t need to win. Neither does Alex Bowman (sixth), nor Martin Truex Jr. (seventh). But that doesn‘t matter to the four on the outside looking in.
“I feel like we need to go there to win or …,” Bowman said. “Obviously it can happen. Some guys can have really bad days. But we need to go win.”
Brad Keselowski holds the fourth and final transfer spot with a 25-point advantage. Elliott and Bowman follow, respectively, but hold the same deficit at 25 points apiece. Truex is 36 points out. Busch is 81 down.
The absolute most points a driver can earn in a race is 60 — 40 for the overall win and 10 each for the two stage wins. It‘s a full sweep.
“We‘ll see how it plays out,” Busch said. “We‘re going to be elbows out, not afraid to rub. Hopefully we‘re going to be in the right spot.”
Three of the Championship 4 berths remain. Joey Logano punched his ticket with his Round of 8 opener at Kansas Speedway two weeks ago. Kyle Busch robbed a title contender of his opportunity to do the same when he won Wednesday at Texas Motor Speedway as non-playoff driver.
Kevin Harvick comes in at second, plus-42 points. Denny Hamlin is third at plus-27. Keselowski, again, falls fourth.
“We just needed to run better throughout the year,” Bowman said. “We did a phenomenal job the last two months; we‘ve been as good as anybody the last two months. But those summer months, when you needed to be accumulating playoff points, we were struggling.”
That‘s really how Hamlin has remained safe. He won six regular-season races but has struggled in the playoffs. Points got him through the Round of 16, a win at Talladega Superspeedway then advanced him out of the Round 12, and now he brings a cushion into the Round of 8 elimination event.
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It‘s a season-long race to the finale. Not a playoff race. Though, winning in the postseason does have its automatic benefits.
“I don‘t think you have to go hit home runs to win races,” Elliott said. “I think we can get solid base hits with singles and doubles to put ourselves in a position to win. Just treat it like a normal race weekend because that‘s what it is. We‘ll give it our best shot to go try and win. We do that every weekend. I don‘t think we need to reinvent the wheel.”