Earnhardt, of course, sat out Sunday’s race because of concussion-related symptoms. He was replaced in the No. 88 HMS Chevrolet by Alex Bowman, but received no points for the weekend and thus dropped two spots to 15th in the standings.
Like Earnhardt, Elliott does not yet have a win this season and will need to qualify for the Chase playoffs via points if he doesn’t get one.
Elliott got caught up the same wreck that ruined Bowman’s day late in Sunday’s race, with only 29 laps remaining. The dual accidents were caused by tires going down for both drivers, and relegated Elliott to a 34th-place finish that cost him three spots in the points standings.
Elliott still has the most points of any non-winning driver. But his cushion over Ryan Newman, who finished seventh Sunday, shrank to two points.
Austin Dillon, who finished 13th, and Jamie McMurray, who finished sixth, also gained valuable ground on Elliott.
The other big winner in the Chase scenario Sunday was Tony Stewart, who finished second in the race and jumped two spots to 28th in the points. After missing the first eight races of the season while recovering from a back injury, Stewart won at Sonoma and must finish inside the top 30 in points over the first 26 regular-season races to qualify for the 10-race Chase playoffs that determine the season’s champion.
Stewart now has a comfortable 67-point cushion over Brian Scott, who is 31st.
With seven regular-season races remaining before the Chase cutoff and 11 winners presumably in (the 10 with wins at the top of the points standings, plus Stewart), the five non-winning drivers with the most points who would qualify for the Chase remain, in order, Elliott, Newman, Dillon, McMurray and Earnhardt.
The next five who are running out of time to either win or leapfrog the others into Chase position on points are Trevor Bayne, Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Blaney (11th) and Stenhouse (10th) each moved up one spot Sunday, while Kahne (25th) lost one after getting clipped in an accident involving Carl Edwards, Newman and Larson late in the race.