Motorsport News

A NASCAR Playoff Race Defined by Near Misses

#99: Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing, Freeway Insurance Chevrolet Camaro , #8: Kyle Busch, Richard Childress Racing, Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen Chevrolet Camaro and #12: Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, BodyArmor Zero Sugar Ford Mustang race to the checkers

Did You Notice? … That there are only nine NASCAR Cup Series winners this season with 10 regular season races remaining? That’s the fewest number of winners at this point in the year during the Next Gen era.

It should mean some winless drivers high up in the point standings should be breathing a sigh of relief. Umm… not exactly. With two winners (Austin Cindric and Daniel Suarez) sitting outside the top 16 in points, the bubble has already risen to 14th-place Bubba Wallace.

Those on the bubble got temporary relief after Kyle Larson’s charge to the front at Sonoma Raceway prevented Michael McDowell from pulling another upset. But there are still plenty of chances for underdogs to sneak through in the next two months. You have races like the Chicago street course, Daytona International Speedway and even Iowa Speedway this weekend lurking on the schedule that could favor another surprise winner.

What’s weird about this year’s postseason race is just how close these winless drivers fighting for a spot have come to pulling off a win. I can’t remember another year filled with so many almosts that could have provided months of relief.

Let’s take a closer look at the seven winless drivers currently on the right side of the bubble (and a few that aren’t) to see just how many sleepless nights they’ve already racked up.

Martin Truex Jr. (5th in points, +128 points above the cutline): Truex was despondent after running out of gas mere feet from the finish line in Sonoma. Already doomed to second after Larson passed him late, crawling to the line added insult to injury.

“Run out of gas on the last corner,” Truex said. “Just one of them years.”

That’s tame compared to what happened at Richmond Raceway, a short track special Truex dominated and should have won. Truex’s No. 19 Toyota was cruising out front until an accident between Larson and Wallace forced overtime. From there, a late pit stop and a poor restart, one he thought teammate Denny Hamlin jumped, ruined a night Truex led a race-high 228 laps.

Could that mean a playoff miss for the second time in three years? Truex is in better shape than 2022, battling fewer winners and holding a 42-point lead on the next driver below him, Ty Gibbs. That means it would take an unheard-of seven new winners in the final 10 races to knock him out.

But would anyone have thought Truex would have…

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