Nascar

Breaking down NASCAR’s playoff drivers, from who’s in to final clinch scenarios

There is one more race left in the NASCAR Cup Series regular season, so one last chance for drivers to qualify for the 16-driver, 10-race playoffs. And there are only two spots left.

Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — NASCAR’s lone visit to the historic track during the 36-race season — will determine which final two drivers will join the other 14 championship contenders. A new 2019 race winner this weekend would automatically qualify and the remaining spot would be filled based on points in the driver standings. A repeat winner just means both spots will be based on points.

Ahead of the race at the Brickyard — the official name of the race is the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line, which is ridiculous — here’s a complete breakdown of who’s automatically qualified for the playoffs, who recently clinched a spot and how the remaining bubble drivers can qualify.

NASCAR Cup Series drivers automatically qualified for the playoffs

Kyle Busch, celebrating his June 2 win at Pocono Raceway with a burnout, will enter the playoffs as the top seed. (Photo: Matthew OHaren, USA TODAY Sports)

Full-time Cup Series drivers who win a regular season race and are in the top 16 in the driver standings automatically secure their place in the playoffs. Those who have qualified with at least one win are:

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, 4 wins, regular season champion

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, 4 wins

Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, 4 wins

Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, 3 wins

Joey Logano, Team Penske, 2 wins

Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, 2 wins

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, 2 wins

Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, 1 win

Kurt Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing, 1 win

Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing, 1 win

Note: Justin Haley won the rain-shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway in July. However, he competes full-time in the second-tier Xfinity Series and is not full-time Cup Series, therefore making him ineligible for the playoffs in the latter series.

Winless drivers who have clinched based on points already earned

Four winless drivers secured their playoff spots in Sunday’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway: Kyle Larson (9th in the driver standings), Ryan Blaney (10th), William Byron (13th) and Aric Almirola (14th).

NASCAR playoff clinch scenarios going into the regular-season finale

(From left to right) Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson are battling for the final two playoff berths. (Photo: USA TODAY Sports, AP and Getty Images)

There are only four remaining drivers who could theoretically lock themselves into the playoff without winning at Indy this weekend. Winning is obviously the more clear-cut way to qualify but also the most difficult route.

So aside from winning at the Brickyard, here’s how these drivers could sneak themselves into the playoff field, per NASCAR. It’s all about the points, which drivers earn based on their race finish and if they’re in the top 10 in the first two stages of the race.

With a repeat race winner or a win by a driver already in based on points, Clint Bowyer, currently 15th in the driver standings, can make the playoffs with 46 points earned in Sunday’s race. Should there be a new winner in 2019, the No. 14 Ford driver needs 48 points.

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Daniel Suárez, who drives the No. 41 Ford, could clinch with a repeat winner or a winner who’s already qualified and 54 points. But he’s also 16th in the standings going into the weekend, so should there be a first-time winner who’s not in among the top-16 drivers, he’ll not only need a strong finish but also some outside help, meaning poor finishes from his fellow bubble drivers.

Ryan Newman is in the same position as Suárez, and they’re tied with 617 points in the driver standings. So similarly, Newman needs 54 points with a repeat winner or someone already qualified or a top finish that’s better than the other drivers in this category.

Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is at risk of not making the playoffs, which were established in 2004, for the first time in his career. He’s 18th in the standings and will need a top finish and significantly more points earned than Bowyer, Suárez and Newman.

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