The Daytona 500 winner had some room for error after taking the checkered flag in the season-opening race. He’s back on the right track with four top-10 finishes in the last six races.
Ryan Newman, 1 win
One of many surprise winners this season, Newman grabbed the victory at Phoenix with some pit strategy and locked himself into the playoffs after barely missing the cut last season.
Austin Dillon, 1 win
Dillon put the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet back in Victory Lane for the first time in 17 years and locks up a spot in the playoffs. A relief for the team after disappointment performance this season.
Kevin Harvick, 4th in points
It’d be a bit of a shock to see Harvick go through the entire regular season without a win. He’s shown speed in spurts but the adjustment to Ford continues. Even if he doesn’t win, Harvick should be a lock based on points.
Kyle Busch, 5th in points
Another driver who should be expected to win is Kyle Busch. He’s been a contender in each of the last three races but watched victory slip away each week.
Jamie McMurray, 6th in points
McMurray’s consistently posted solid finishes all season and looks to put both Chip Ganassi Racing cars in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. It won’t be a surprise if he wins a race but it’d take a couple unexpected winners to knock him out of the playoffs at this point.
Chase Elliott, 7th in points
After such a strong start to the season, Elliott’s failed to finish better than 24th in the past four races. He’s trending in the wrong direction and needs to flip it around fast.
One of two drivers currently in the playoffs without any playoff points (Jamie McMurray), Bowyer’s past being happy in good equipment and wants to get back to Victory Lane for the first time since 2012.
Joey Logano, 10th in points
That encumbered finish at Richmond didn’t seem like an issue at the time but Logano’s slipped in the standings and only has a 48-point advantage over the cutoff at this point. A couple surprise winners could have Logano clinging to the bubble.
Denny Hamlin, 11th in points
Hamlin’s trending in the right direction and has several strong tracks on the schedule, including Pocono in two weeks.
Ryan Blaney, 12th in points
Blaney’s been in a nose dive since nearly winning at Texas. He’s finished 24th or worse in four of six races and dropped from fourth to 12th in the points standings. His 93 stage points have been a huge benefit for his playoff chances.
The playoff bubble
It’s never too early to start thinking about the playoff bubble. A handful of big names drivers including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and rookies Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez currently sit on the outside of the playoff bubble. Check out the three drivers who are the closest to the playoff cutoff.
LAT PhotographicNigel Kinrade
Matt Kenseth, 15th in points
The misfortune of Matt Kenseth has been the story of the year for the veteran driver. It’s been a mix of third-place finishes and 38th-place hard hits. A win for Kenseth wouldn’t be a surprise but he’s also only 20 points outside of the playoffs.