NASCAR Playoffs: Who’s in and who’s on the bubble after Kyle Larson’s Michigan win –

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are getting closer with 15 of the 26 regular-season races in the books. When the circuit heads to Chicagoland Speedway in September, 16 drivers will be competing for a championship.

Here is a look at where things stand heading into this weekend’s road course race at Sonoma Raceway:

Locked in

Kyle Larson: The No. 42 driver clinched his spot in the playoffs in March when he won at Fontana. Sunday’s win at Michigan was icing on the cake for the regular season points leader, who is third in playoff points with 13 at the moment.

Martin Truex Jr.: If you’ve followed any of the races this season, you should be familiar with Truex Jr. by now. Not only does he have two wins under his belt, but the No. 78 also owns 10 midrace stage victories. No other driver has more than four this season.

Brad Keselowski: The No. 2 secured its spot in the playoffs when it went to Victory Lane at Atlanta. Keselowski also took the checkered at Martinsville and has 10 top-10 finishes on his resume in 2017.

Jimmie Johnson: It’s no surprise that the seven-time NASCAR champion is a lock already. Johnson’s three wins at Texas, Bristol and Dover are more than any driver this season. Look for the No. 48 car to make more noise come September.

Ryan Blaney: An exciting first-career win at Pocono locked the descendant of Dave and Lou Blaney into the playoffs this year as he currently sits 13th in the regular season standings.

Kurt Busch: A Daytona 500 victory can go a long way. The Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 hasn’t been back to Victory Lane since, but has seven top-10 finishes this season and currently sits 14th in the regular-season points.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Like Busch, Stenhouse Jr. secured his spot at one of NASCAR’s biggest tracks in May when he took home the checkered flag at Talladega.

Ryan Newman: Only 17th in the regular-season points right now, which in the past would have put him on the playoff bubble. Thanks to a win at Phoenix, Newman is locked in.

Austin Dillon: You may recall Dillon taking the No. 3 car back to Victory Lane at his hometown track, Charlotte. Like Newman, Dillon hasn’t been all that impressive in stage racing, but either way, he will have a chance to compete for a championship.

In (for now)

Kyle Busch: Believe it or not, the No. 18 has yet to make a trip to Victory Lane yet this season other than the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race. Busch is sitting pretty at third in the points but will look to make it official with a win at Sonoma.

Kevin Harvick: There is no question that Harvick is Stewart-Haas Racing’s top driver, and with nine top-10 finishes this season, it’s pretty safe to say he’s going to make the playoffs. The No. 4 is currently fourth in points.

Chase Elliott: The No. 24 almost returned to Victory Lane last week at Michigan and has run well all season. At fifth in points, Elliott remains winless but has five top-5 finishes to show for it.

Jamie McMurray: Here is one of those drivers that hasn’t accumulated any playoff points or wins but has been solid all year. McMurray has been Mr. Consistent, cracking the top 10 nine times this year as he sits seventh in the regular-season standings.

Denny Hamlin: The 2016 Daytona 500 winner was the first rookie to qualify for the Chase back in 2006 and is no stranger to NASCAR’s playoffs, but without a win yet this season Hamlin finds himself closer and closer to missing out.

Joey Logano: Wait a minute, didn’t he win at Richmond? Well, that is true but it doesn’t count toward the playoffs because it was an “encumbered” victory. Logano has shown promise as of late though with a top-5 finish at Michigan.

Matt Kenseth: If any of the drivers on the bubble win their first race of the season soon, Kenseth would be mathematically out. The veteran will need to pick up the pace or win a race if he expects to compete for a championship this season.

Down, but not out (yet)

Clint Bowyer: He has been solid for Stewart-Haas racing with a respectable five top-10 finishes. Despite sitting 12th in the regular-season standings, the number of race winners this season may push Bowyer out of the playoffs.

Erik Jones: The rookie has been impressive in his series debut as he currently sits 16th in the regular-season points, but like Bowyer and Kenseth, Jones will most likely need a win to lock himself in.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: While there are a variety of drivers ahead of Junior in points, you can never count out an Earnhardt, especially with Daytona coming up on July 1. Earnhardt has had an up-and-down season, but NASCAR’s most popular driver will have plenty of chances to notch a win before the playoffs begin.


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