Takeaways from Darlington: Jimmie Johnson's on the playoff bubble but he's probably safe

There’s likely just one spot up for grabs in the final race of the 2018 Cup Series regular season.

Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman currently occupy the final two spots in the 16-driver playoff field. Neither have mathematically clinched. But they also shouldn’t be holding their breath either.

[Brad Keselowski wins Southern 500]

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Bowman currently occupies the final position in the playoffs. But at 68 points ahead of his closest pursuers, the only way he can fall out of the playoffs is if any winless driver outside of the top 15 in the standings wins at Indianapolis and he doesn’t pass Johnson in the standings. Johnson is 19 points ahead of Bowman.

Given how the 2018 season has gone, a driver outside of the top 15 winning is a very big longshot. Johnson could have put himself in a much better position Sunday night at Darlington but finished next-to-last because of an engine issue. He had a chance to lock himself into the playoffs with a good finish. Now he’s on the bubble at Indy, however strong that bubble may actually be.

“I don’t want to be in this position,” Johnson said. “We have been around this spot for a while.  We have seen it coming.  We just need to transfer and honestly, I think our cars are capable of running in the top five. If we can just start minimizing mistakes, my own included, we will be much better off and have a shot.”

[Points standings after Darlington]

Johnson’s engine was not an aberration

Johnson retired because he said his engine didn’t have oil pressure. Teammate William Byron had to head to the garage with an engine problem later in the race. And on Friday, Ganassi Racing’s Jamie McMurray had an engine problem in practice. CGR gets its engines from Hendrick Motorsports.

This shouldn’t be a worry for the playoffs. We don’t think. If anything, it’s better to find out before the playoffs about an engine issue than it is to find out during the playoffs.

Did Ryan Newman back up into Clint Bowyer on purpose?

Clint Bowyer crashed into Ryan Newman as Newman attempted to hit pit road in the third stage. Bowyer didn’t seem to know that Newman was pitting. And he was much faster than Newman because he had pitted laps before and had fresher tires. It was a recipe for disaster given that Bowyer clearly didn’t know Bowyer was heading to pit road.

“I guess he was pitting or something and it’s a product of this place, I guess,” Bowyer said. “There are lapped cars that are 50 laps down all over the damn place.  That’s pretty frustrating.  I’m about tired of that.  This track is too narrow for cars to be that far off the pace.  You’re in and out of those guys, diving all over the place, trying to navigate around them, trying to figure out where the hell they’re going, and then you come up on somebody trying to actually compete in the race and you’re not on the game — he’s pitting or something and I run over him.  I didn’t see him wave, but, like I said, when you come off of two and you pass 37 lapped cars and you get your bearings and everything else – maybe he waved, maybe he didn’t – I didn’t see it.  He just stopped right in front of me and I hit him hard.”

Watch the video above closely. It appears that Newman’s car was not, uh, forced into backing up into Bowyer’s. If he backed it up purposely into the No. 14 we don’t necessarily blame Newman. It’s hard to comprehend something like that in the heat of the moment.

Kyle Busch leads Kevin Harvick for the 15-point bonus

The leader of the points standings after the first 26 races of the season gets a 15-point bonus. The guy who finishes in second gets 10 extra points. So Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are racing for five playoff points at Indianapolis on Sunday outside of the five playoff points that goes to the winner of the race.

Busch has a massive edge over Harvick heading into Indy. He’s up 39 points. Given the most a driver can score in a race is 60, Busch is a heavy favorite for those 15 points.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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