NASCAR Playoff Watch: Jimmie Johnson is really in trouble

Nick Bromberg

The threat of Jimmie Johnson missing the NASCAR playoffs for the first time in his career is very real. Johnson finished 19th on Saturday night at Bristol and is now 26 points out of the playoffs with two races to go in the regular season.

The seven-time champion got caught in an accident on lap 81 when he was right behind Austin Dillon when Dillon had a tire issue and went into the wall. Johnson ran into Dillon’s car and got clipped by eventual race-winner Denny Hamlin. The repairs to Johnson’s car put the 48 car behind for the rest of the night and things didn’t get any better when Johnson was involved in the final caution for a multi-car crash on lap 374.

Clint Bowyer is also outside the 16-driver playoff field (again) too. Bowyer finished seventh but didn’t score any stage points. That’s a problem. His teammate Daniel Suarez finished eighth, but had 38 points to Bowyer’s 30.

That difference means Suarez is now two points ahead of Bowyer for the final playoff spot with races at Darlington and Indianapolis to go. Barring something crazy, it looks certain that at least one of Suarez, Bowyer and Johnson will miss the playoffs.

Here’s what the playoff picture looks like heading into the off week.

In with a win

Kyle Busch (4 wins) [29 playoff points]

Martin Truex Jr. (4) [23]

Denny Hamlin (4) [23]

Brad Keselowski (3) [19]

Joey Logano (2) [17]

Chase Elliott (2) [14]

Kevin Harvick (2) [14]

Kurt Busch (1) [7]

Alex Bowman (1) [5]

Not much changes here. Kurt Busch won the second stage on Saturday night and Hamlin is now tied with Truex for the second-most playoff points. Hamlin is also third in the point standings now, ahead of both Truex and Harvick.

Should make it without a win

Ryan Blaney, 686 points

Kyle Larson, 665

William Byron, 664

Aric Almirola, 654

Erik Jones, 646

Jones was racing for the win with approximately 100 laps to go when he hit the wall. The ensuing pit stop put him multiple laps down. A good run at either Darlington or Indianapolis should ensure that he makes the 16-driver field.

In, for now

Ryan Newman, 603

Daniel Suarez, 591

Newman the NASCAR cockroach. He finished 11th.

Outside looking in

Clint Bowyer, 589

Jimmie Johnson, 565

Paul Menard, 520

Chris Buescher, 506

Bowyer, who was seventh, was the final car on the lead lap. It’s the fewest cars to finish on the lead lap in a Bristol race since the 2004 night race at the track.

We’re including Paul Menard and Chris Buescher in this category because why not. Crazy things could happen. But they’re going to need a large points gain at Darlington to have a chance of making the playoffs on points at Indianapolis.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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