NASCAR
Bob Pockrass, NASCAR 46d

With playoff spots dwindling, many drivers eyeing last opportunities

NASCAR

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer know that they need to win to make the NASCAR Cup playoffs. The math says they could still earn a spot by points, but the reality says they pretty much need to reach Victory Lane if they want a shot at the 2017 title.

So in some ways, they won't worry about who is ahead of them or behind them during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday at Watkins Glen. Then again, they will need to know what those drivers are racing for: Are they drivers who need that win to make the playoffs or drivers who already have secured their spots?

"I'm not sure it's a must-win yet [for me], but it's getting closer to that point," said Logano, the winner of the 2015 NASCAR Cup race on the 2.45-mile road course. "This is one of our best shots to go out here and win. ... Our goal is to win the race no matter what.

"I'm not going to race someone different because of their situation. I will understand what their situation is and understand how desperate they are."

Michael McDowell, 25th in the standings, and AJ Allmendinger, 27th, are among the best road-course racers in the series and have good shots to win at Watkins Glen, and if one of them does, throwing the playoff field into even more of a battle among drivers trying to get in on points.

Allmendinger's lone NASCAR Cup win came at Watkins Glen in 2014. McDowell won the Xfinity race last year at Road America.

"Last year, we qualified just outside the top 10 and had a pretty solid race going," McDowell said. "It's a big opportunity for us to sneak a win in there, so hopefully we can get it done."

 

There are three spots currently left to drivers on points. If no one outside the top-16 wins in the past five races of the regular season, it pretty much is four drivers vying for three spots.

Chase Elliott has the most at 616 points, one ahead of Jamie McMurray and 21 points ahead of Matt Kenseth. Bowyer is 10th in points, but he is on the outside looking in at the moment, 17 points behind Kenseth, 38 points behind McMurray and 39 points behind Elliott.

The next among the winless: Joey Logano is 69 points behind Kenseth, while Daniel Suarez is 130 points behind Kenseth. Neither has much of a shot to make it on points.

"The stress comes from the racing in general, the race track, all the things that you can control going wrong," Bowyer said about The Glen. "That's where the stress comes from on a racetrack like this."

In other words, Bowyer said the key is hitting his marks on the track and not make mistakes. He knows strategy, fuel mileage and road-course savvy could end up determining who qualifies for the playoffs and who doesn't.

"Everybody's got a shot at winning this race," Bowyer said. "There are so many different ways of winning this race. ... There is a lot at stake."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still holding out hope, too. He might be the best of the rest as far as who has a chance to earn that first win. If he doesn't win at Michigan (he has two career wins there), he then has Bristol (one win in 2004), Darlington (no wins) and then Richmond (three career wins).

"We've got to go into Watkins Glen like we can win," said Earnhardt, who has an average finish of 21.7 at Watkins Glen and has just two top-5s in 16 career Cup starts at the track. "We've got to go in there with that attitude if we want to win.

"If that opportunity falls in our lap, you have to have your head on straight. We will go to all these tracks with a great, positive attitude and see how it works out for us."

Logano has won at four the five upcoming tracks -- The Glen, Michigan, Bristol and Richmond. Bowyer has won twice at Richmond but at none of the other four remaining regular-season tracks.

"I'm looking forward to all these races coming up," Bowyer said. "I think we can capitalize on stage points and possibly a win on any of them."

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