Kyle Busch is the top seed for this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
NASCAR’s 10-race, championship-deciding Playoffs open in Las Vegas next weekend absent the only driver to have qualified for the 15 previous series. Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson crashed out of Sunday afternoon’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis to end his hopes of reaching the 16-driver Playoff field. He will still run the final 10 events, but isn’t eligible for the championship.
The Hendrick Motorsports star started the race ranked 18th in regular-season points. He needed to win the 160-lapper to advance automatically or earn enough points to pass fellow “bubble” drivers Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez. He wasn’t especially impressive for much of the day, running mostly well outside the top 10. Despite starting sixth on the 40-car grid, he was never within range of making up the 18 points needed to be 16th in the final regular-season standings.
Jimmie Johnson failed to make the Playoffs for the first time in his career.
Instead, he crashed out at lap 105 of 160 and finished 35th in the event he’s won four times. At one point in the final moments, winless drivers Bowyer, Suarez and Newman were virtually tied for the 16th and final Playoff spot. Bowyer finished fifth to earn his spot by 15 points and Newman finished eighth to make the field by four points. Suarez finished 11th and missed the Playoffs by four points. Johnson missed advancing by 43 points.
Ten drivers qualified by winning at least one of the 26 regular-season races: Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones; Stewart Haas driver Kevin Harvick (who dominated in winning the Brickyard); Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Brickyard 400 runner-up Joey Logano); Hendrick Motorsports drivers Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman; Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kurt Busch.
Denny Hamlin won four races during the regular season to establish himself as a threat to finally win it all.
The six winless drivers to advance on points are Hendrick driver William Byron; Stewart Hass drivers Bowyer and Aric Almirola; Ganassi driver Kyle Larson; Roush Fenway driver Newman; and Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney.
After next weekend’s Playoff opener in Las Vegas the series goes on consecutive weekends to Richmond, Charlotte, Dover, Talladega, Kansas City, Martinsville, Fort Worth, and Phoenix. It crowns the 2019 Cup Series champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 17.
This year’s 16-driver Playoff Series field:
No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry
Crew chief: Adam Stevens
Cup championships: 1 (2015)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-10s/DNFs: 4/13/21/1
His chances: Despite his team’s recent mini-slump, he’s still the most talented driver in the field.
No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry
Crew chief: Chris Gabehart
Cup championships: 0 (2nd in 2010)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-10s/DNFs: 4/13/17/1
His chances: He’s been too good for too long to have not won a Cup by now.
Martin Truex Jr.
No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry
Crew chief: Cole Pearn
Cup championships: 1 (2017)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-10s/DNFs: 4/10/15/3
His chances: He’s not the best driver out there, but Pern can be the difference-maker.
Joey Logano is out to defend his title this season.
No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang
Crew chief: Todd Gordon
Cup championships: 1 (2018)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-10s/DNFs: 2/10/15/0
His chances: He won the Cup last year with similar stats, so there’s no reason it can’t happen again.
No. 2 Team Penske Ford Mustang
Crew chief: Paul Wolfe
Cup championships: 1 (2012)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-10s/DNFs: 3/9/14/2
His chances: Haven’t we learned by now to never underestimate what Team Penske can do at crunch time?
No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford Mustang
Crew chief: Rodney Childers
Cup championships: 1 (2014)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-10s/DNFs: 3/9/17/3
His chances: Those 17 top-10 finishes are reason for great optimism going in, but beware those three DNFs.
No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro
Crew chief: Alan Gustafson
Cup championships: 0 (5th in 2017)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-10s/DNFs: 2/8/11/4
His chances: It won’t take him six full years (like Bill) for his first title, but not this year.
No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro
Crew chief: Matt McCall
Cup championships: 1 (2004)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-10s/DNFs: 1/5/14/0
His chances: He knows what it takes to win the Cup, but doesn’t have enough of it this year.
Winless Kyle Larson would like nothing better than to get on a roll in the Playoffs.
No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro
Crew chief: Chad Johnston
Cup championships: 0 (8th in 2017)
2019 wins/top5s/top-10s/DNFs: 0/6/12/5
His chances: He’s winless year and has five DNFs, and neither stat speaks well of his chances.
No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro
Crew chief: Greg Ives
Cup championships: 0 (11th this year)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-10s/DNFs: 1/4/7/2
His chances: Another young Hendrick Motorsports hopeful who’ll have a better chance in a few years.
No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry
Crew chief: Chris Gayle
Cup championships: 0 (12th this year)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-10s/DNFs: 1/9/13/2
His chances: Recent victory in Southern 500 was impressive, but certainly doesn’t make him a favorite.
No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang
Crew chief: Jeremy Bullins
Cup championships: 0 (9th in 2017)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-10s/DNFs: 0/7/12/3
His chances: The least-experienced of Team Penske’s three teams is still good… just not quite good enough.
Second-year driver William Byron hopes there’s a little magic left in the No. 24, which has won championships with Jeff Gordon.
No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camry
Crew chief: Chad Knaus
Cup championships: 0 (13th this year)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-10s/DNFs: 0/2/8/1
His chances: Second-year driver has shown flashes of promise, but is overmatched against this talented field.
No. 10 Stewart Haas Racing Ford Mustang
Crew chief: John Klausmeier
Cup championships: 0 (5th in 2018)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-10s/DNFs: 0/1/10/2
His chances: There’s nothing in his mediocre regular-season stats to give him any hope at all.
No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Ford Mustang
Crew chief: Mike Bugarewicz
Cup championships: 0 (2nd in 2012)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-10s/DNFs: 0/6/12/6
His chances: Zero victories and six DNFs pretty much tell the story of what we can expect.
No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Mustang
Crew chief: Scott Graves
Cup championships: 0 (2nd in 2014)
2019 wins/top-5s/top-1s/DNFs: 0/1/9/0
His chances: Raced his way into the Playoffs at Indy, but faces long odds
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