4 to Go Until the Playoffs
• 16 drivers will make playoffs
• First criteria to make field is wins, then top winless drivers in points to complete field
• Drivers earn points to start playoffs based on race wins, stage wins and regular-season points finish
Last week, it was Chase Elliott punching his playoff ticket with a victory at Watkins Glen, the first of his career (more on that below). He's the first Hendrick driver to win a race this season. 3 of the 4 Hendrick drivers are currently in the playoff field, but 2 of them are sitting on the bubble, although with a cushion over 17th of more than a full race worth of points.
The battle for the last spot currently is between Alex Bowman, who replaced Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 car at Hendrick Motorsports this season, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., winless this season but winner of 2 races last year. Bowman has really pulled away from Stenhouse over the last couple months.
What's Next for Chase Elliott?
Elliott joined the ranks of the victorious last week at Watkins Glen, picking up his first win in his 99th career start after 8 career runner-up finishes. That's tied for the 4th-most runner-up finishes before a driver's first victory in Cup Series history. Strangely, the driver he's tied for 4th-most with is his father, "Awesome" Bill Elliott.
For Hendrick, it was the team's milestone 250th Cup Series win, joining the Richard Petty-led Petty Enterprises (268 wins) as the only teams to reach that mark in series history. However, it ended a season-long drought for Hendrick. It's the 3rd-longest the team has waited to get its first win of the season. If past history is any indication, don't expect any more wins this season.
Only 2 drivers in Cup Series history have gotten their first 2 career wins in back-to-back races. Hall-of-Famer Ned Jarrett did it in 1959. The last to do it was Billy Wade in 1964.
Can Harvick, Busch Continue Rolling Up Wins?
Chase Elliott picked up the win at Watkins Glen, but now we're back racing on ovals, so expect to see the familiar names back at the top. Of the 18 races this season not on road courses or restrictor-plate tracks, they've all been won by Kyle Busch (6), Kevin Harvick (6), Martin Truex Jr. (4) or Clint Bowyer (2). Those 6-time winners have dominated the laps led in those races.
Kyle Busch will be going for his 50th career Cup Series win this week, which would make him the 13th driver in Cup Series history to reach that mark, and the 4th-youngest (see last week for more details). He and Harvick are going for their 7th win of the season, only Kyle Busch in 2008 (19 races) has reached 7 wins in 22 or fewer races since 2000.
Larson Looks to Extend 2-Mile Mastery
Kyle Larson has 5 career Cup Series wins, 3 of those have come at Michigan, site of this week's race, and 4 of them have come at the 2 2-mile tracks on the schedule, California and Michigan.
Larson is trying to be the 10th driver to win 4 Michigan races, a mark that drivers like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick never reached. Larson has only made 9 Michigan starts and will look to reach 4 wins at the track in fewer starts than any driver but David Pearson, the track's all-time leader with 9 wins.
Daniel Suárez Keeping Hot Streak Alive
Although he might need a victory at this point to make the playoffs in his 2nd Cup Series season, Daniel Suárez has come alive the past 2 weeks, with a career-best 2nd-place finish at Pocono (winning his first pole) and a 4th-place run at Watkins Glen.
He might need some help at Michigan though. His 30.3 career average finish at the track is his worst at any track where he's made multiple starts.
Who's Hot and Who's Not - Michigan
Kyle Larson (Ganassi): 3 wins in last 4 Michigan races; 3 of his 5 career wins have come at Michigan
Chase Elliott (Hendrick): 3 2nd-place finishes, 9th or better in all 5 career Michigan races
Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas): 8 top-5 finishes (0 wins, 6 2nd-place finishes) in last 11 Michigan races
Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas): won last race at Michigan; last year's spring Michigan winner (Kyle Larson) also won August race
Kyle Busch (Gibbs): 3 straight top-10 finishes at Michigan (none in previous 7 races at track)
Brad Keselowski (Penske): finished 16th, 17th and 6th in last 3 Michigan races (9th or better in previous 6); has never won in 18 career starts at his home-state track
Denny Hamlin (Gibbs): no top-5 finishes in last 9 races (6 in first 13 races this season)
Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick): 1 win in 33 career Michigan starts; enters race on career-long 45-race winless streak
Daniel Suárez (Gibbs): 30.3 career Avg finish at Michigan is his worst at any track where he's made multiple starts
Joey Logano (Penske): 3 finishes outside top 25 in last 5 races (no top-5 finishes in last 10 races overall)
--- ESPN Stats & Inf0 ---