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What to Watch For: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Situation

• 10 drivers have clinched spots based on their regular-season wins
• 4 drivers have clinched based on points
• Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman clinch as long as no driver 17th or lower in playoff standings wins at Indianapolis
• Johnson can also clinch by earning 37 points (by race finish and stage points)
• 14 drivers not currently in playoff field entering Indianapolis in "win or go home" situation

NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Format

• 16 drivers make field, with wins being first criteria (then points for winless drivers and to break ties)
• Playoffs consist of 10 races; with 4 drivers eliminated after 3rd, 6th and 9th races (highest finisher of 4 remaining drivers at season finale wins championship)
• Drivers accrue playoff bonus points for wins, stage wins and regular-season points finish that are applied to the start of each playoff round

Jimmie Johnson in Danger?

The biggest surprise of the season has been the performance of 7-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. Johnson is looking at the first winless season of his 17 full season in the Cup Series. He enters the regular season finale 15th in the playoff standings, 87 ahead of the cut line and 19 ahead of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman. While it would take an upset victory by a driver 17th or lower in the standings AND Bowman passing Johnson in the points for Johnson to miss the playoffs for the first time. He's the only driver to make the field each year since the format began in 2004.

Johnson enters the Brickyard 400 on a career-long 48-race winless streak. That's twice as long as the next-longest winless streak of his career, a 24-race stretch in 2016. 2017 was Johnson's worst season of his career... until this season.

However bad this season has been, Johnson could turn it around with a victory at Indianapolis. Not only is he trying to tie his former teammate Jeff Gordon with a record 5th Brickyard 400 win, he would become just the 3rd driver in any major racing series to win 5 times at the famed track.

Another Upset Looming at Indy?

3 times since 2010, the Brickyard 400 winner made Indianapolis his only win at the season, so maybe the 16-driver playoff field isn't quite locked in yet. And for those three drivers, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Paul Menard, another Indy win on Sunday would take them from outside the playoff field to inside.

Last year's Brickyard 400 was one of the wildest in history. Let's take a look back "by the numbers".

18: extra miles run (3 cautions after scheduled distance)
19 drivers failed to finish (out of field of 40)
14 cautions (race record)
2: laps to go for final pass (Kasey Kahne passed Brad Keselowski)

From Champs to Gone in a Year

It was announced this week that Furniture Row Racing, the team for defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr., will be shutting down operations following this season due to a lack of sponsorship. While it's not the first time a team has ceased operations shortly after winning a championship, it's still a surprise based on how strong the team has been over the last 2 seasons.

Truex Jr. will likely be heading to Joe Gibbs Racing next season (Furniture Row is a satellite team of JGR), but he has a chance to make some history this year before Furniture Row shutters its doors. Last season, Truex Jr. had a teammate, Erik Jones, but this year, Jones is driving for Gibbs and Furniture Row is technically a 1-car operation. No single-car team has won a championship since Dale Earnhardt's final title for Richard Childress Racing in 1994.

Kyle Busch Looks for Another Indy Win and a Regular-Season Title

Kyle Busch has won 5 NASCAR races at Indianapolis, a 2-time Brickyard 400 winner (2015-16) and 3 XFINITY Series races (2013, 2015-16). Those 5 wins are tied with Jeff Gordon for the most NASCAR wins at Indianapolis across all series.

After winning the Brickyard 400 in 2015 and 2016, Busch wrecked out racing for the lead last year, but still started on the pole and led 87 laps. He's led nearly 200 more laps than any other driver at Indy over the last 2 years.

Who's Hot and Who's Not - Indianapolis Edition

HOT:

Kyle Busch (Gibbs): won 2 of last 3 Brickyard 400s (led 198 more laps than any other driver over last 2 years at Indy)
Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick): 4 wins at Indianapolis (last in 2012) is 1 off track record in any major series (Michael Schumacher, Jeff Gordon)
Joey Logano (Penske): finished 8th or better in all 5 Brickyard 400s with Team Penske
Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas): finished 8th or better in last 4 Brickyard 400s
Denny Hamlin (Gibbs): 3 top-5 finishes in last 4 Brickyard 400s

NOT:

Team Penske: never won Brickyard 400 (record 17 Indianapolis 500 wins, including earlier this year)
Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row): 19.5 average finish at Indianapolis is his worst at any intermediate track (non short track or road course)
Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas): 1 top-5 finish in 17 career Brickyard 400 starts (tied for his fewest at any track)
Ryan Blaney (Penske): wrecked out of last 2 Brickyard 400s
Chase Elliott (Hendrick): finished 15th or worse in 3 career Brickyard 400 starts

--- ESPN Stats & Info ---