As the hot summer grinds on, the pressure to make the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs ratchets up with each passing week.
Eleven different drivers already have punched their playoff tickets by winning a race and passing post-race inspection. A 12th winner, Joey Logano, doesn’t get to count his victory because his Team Penske Ford flunked tech after winning at Richmond in April.
With that in mind, here are six drivers who are in serious need of a race victory and how their prospects look for this Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
There’s no question that Elliott is really, really good. He made the playoffs as a rookie last year and he’s on track to make them again. That said, Elliott is still looking for his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory after 60 starts. Elliott’s father, Bill, won here in 2002 in one of Ray Evernham’s Dodges. A Chase Elliott victory would be a great story, but in two starts here he’s not finished better than 15th.
Faced with a 52-point deficit to the last playoff spot, Logano’s back is against the wall. The good news for him is he’s been in that position before and won. Last year, Logano won playoff elimination races at Talladega and Phoenix to advance to the next round both times. Still, neither of the Penske Fords has the speed they had early in the season. Logano has finished no worse than eighth in the last four Brickyard 400s.
Right now, Kenseth is on the playoff bubble, although he does have a seemingly comfortable 52-point lead over Joey Logano. Kenseth was in contention to win last week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and the entire Joe Gibbs Racing outfit has picked up speed lately. Kenseth has twice finished second in the Brickyard 400, including last year. He has a 4.50 average finish here in the last four races.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In his final season as a full-time Cup driver, Earnhardt will need to win one of the next seven races to make the playoffs. Lately, the entire Hendrick Motorsports squad has been missing a little speed — they’ve been OK, but not great — and Indy has been one of Earnhardt’s toughest tracks. In 16 starts here, he has only one top-five finish, a fourth-place run in 2012.
Although Bowyer has had a solid and steady first year with Stewart-Haas Racing, he’s riding a 168-race winless streak dating back to the fall Charlotte race in 2012. The good news for Bowyer is that he’s 10th in points and inside the playoff window right now, but he desperately wants a victory.
Now we come to the most intriguing choice. Busch is the two-time defending Brickyard 400 winner, a driver who’s dominated this track lately. But he hasn’t won a single Cup race since winning here in 2016 and has had a tremendously frustrating season this year. Busch has led 953 laps in 2017, second only to the 1,252 led by Martin Truex Jr. Busch has to win sooner or later, right? If Busch is to make a serious run at a second championship, this would be a good place for him to start.
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