NASCAR Cup Series playoff watch: Who's on the bubble

With 14 different winners on the Monster Energy Cup Series in 2017, the pressure is on for NASCAR’s bubble boys looking to make the Playoffs.

NASCAR Cup Series playoff watch: Who's on the bubble
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, Clint Bowyer, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Daniel Suárez, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Thirty-nine points separate seventh-place Chase Elliott from 10th-place Clint Bowyer. Between them sit Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth — all four drivers are winless in the first 22 races.

The good news for this foursome is three spots remain on the Playoff grid since Joey Logano’s victory was encumbered when his car was found to be illegal in post-race inspection following Richmond. A perennial contender, Logano has not been able to return to Victory Lane — or make up the 25-points he was penalized from the infraction.

Until three weeks ago, there were four openings for the post-season. Then Kasey Kahne captured a surprise win in the Brickyard 400. Kahne had not factored in as a contender and had dropped to 22nd in the standings after five wrecks in seven races.

If Elliott, McMurray, Kenseth and Bowyer thought it would be smooth sailing into Chicagoland — the first race of the Playoffs — the dynamic changed once again.

But the additional stress doesn’t seem to bother Bowyer.

“There’s always pressure,” Bowyer said. “It doesn’t matter. There’s pressure in the Daytona 500 to go out there and perform and try to win that race. There’s always pressure. It’s no different now. You still focus on the task at hand. You focus on unloading a fast race car, making good downforce, making good horsepower, knowing it’s gonna take that on this race track, and you focus on the adjustments, the balance of your car so you can go out and qualify well today.

That enables you to gain those stage points as we go through the race and then work hard to get a finish. It’s the task at hand week-in and week-out that you have to focus on. You can’t worry about those points. You have to go out and do your job week-in and week-out and if you do that, I feel like with the way we’re running we can get in two different ways. I think we could win and I think we can point our way in. I think both of those are definite do-ables right now for us, I guess.”

Winning at the Cup level is easier said than done. It’s been 171 races since Bowyer’s last victory. And Bowyer currently trails ninth-place Kenseth by 28 points. With a Playoff berth on the line, is Bowyer willing to take risks in the final four races?

“You always have to take chances,” Bowyer said. “That’s the hard thing. When the pressure cooker is turned up and the situation is where it is right now, you can afford to take chances, you need to be able to take those chances to enable you to get those stage points if you’re out – make a gain to try to get them.

But there’s also a catch-22 to every decision there, so you just have to lay it all out, focus on the task at hand, whether that’s a stage win or the second stage or the finish at the end – focus on that and let the rest take care of itself.”

Click on the image to learn about who's on the bubble:

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