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5 Points to Ponder: Playoffs, Playoffs, Playoffs

ONE: Jimmie Johnson’s Playoff Hopes Continue to Slip Away

Last weekend was a nightmare for Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team. Johnson hasn’t won a race in more than two years. He squeaked into the playoffs last season, but this year doesn’t look as promising. Johnson encountered issues early on, smacking the turn 2 wall and inexplicably staying out for an extra lap — while he was clearly slow down the backstretch — before coming down pit road.

This put Johnson in a hole he never dug himself out of, running in last for quite some time before misfortune befell others in the field. Spencer Boyd and Clint Bowyer both crashed, while Cody Ware and Garrett Smithley fell behind the No. 48. Johnson still plummeted in the standings, though. He arrived in the Great Lake State tied with Ryan Newman at the points cutoff. By the time race day was done, though, the Rocket Man had passed him. Johnson now sits 12 points below the cutline, 18th in points.

Still, he snuck his way into the postseason last year, and could very well do it again — provided that those in front of him have issues the next few weeks, of course, or if Johnson can eke out a win.

It’s improbable, given JJ’s historic run of making the playoffs, but it could very well be a different picture come crunch time, with the No. 48 on the outside looking in.

TWO: Don’t Sleep on Chris Buescher

At the end of the day on Sunday, we saw a new name enter the top 20 in points that hadn’t appeared there before: Chris Buescher.

The driver of JTG Daugherty Racing’s No. 37 has snuck into the networks’ end-of-race points graphic, quietly putting together some strong runs this year.

Buescher averaged a finish around 21st in his first two years with the team, but is averaging just under a 17th-place finish in 2019. Some might not see that as a huge accomplishment, but considering the size of the team and his previous two years, it’s major.

He has four top-10 runs this season, with a best of sixth at Charlotte in May. A rough patch of finishes below 20th from Martinsville to Dover didn’t help his average, but he got right back on track and hasn’t finished below that mark since.

Buescher is coming up the ladder. That win at Pocono in 2016 was just a harbinger of things to come.

He’s also finished 16th five times this season, so someone start keeping track of how many times he does that.

THREE: “Boring” Isn’t Bad

This is an every-week thing at this point, but it’s something that should be commented on. Twitter lit up with descriptions of Sunday’s race at Michigan as “boring” or things along those lines.

It wasn’t.

Now, we’ve all been guilty of saying things like this. But Sunday’s race was far from it, especially the time period when many of these tweets surfaced, which was during the first stage.

It was entertaining to watch Martin Truex Jr. — who started at the back — slice his way through traffic toward the leaders. Brad Keselowski led much of that opening stage, he and Truex having arguably the best cars early on. They continued to battle, and Truex eventually came out the winner with pit strategy coming into play and the No. 19 crossing the line first to win the stage.

Two stories, as well — Truex in his 500th career start and Keselowski in his home state — also played into this and made it even more fascinating.

And what, pray tell, is boring about two of the day’s best cars, at least at that time, duking it out at the front of the field?

FOUR: Watch Out, NXS Big Three

Austin Cindric has found his groove and has quickly become a title contender. Yes, he hasn’t won on an oval yet, but he’s shown excellence in the past two weeks, winning road course races at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio.

With those wins, Cindric is beyond locked into the playoffs and is in a comfortable position to gain some momentum. Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick have dominated the season, but Cindric has found his stride. It’ll still be a year or two before we see him rack up wins, but he’s shown his prowess as he continues to gain experience in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and is certainly a title threat down the road.

Plus, with Road America and the Charlotte ROVAL, who knows? Cindric had engine issues last year at Road America, but rebounded at the road courses with a third-place effort and 13 laps led at the ROVAL. The six-foot-three reporter-hugger could further build his momentum with a strong run or win in Elkhart Lake, and a win at the ROVAL would lock him into the second round of the playoffs and kickstart a possible title run.

Keep an eye on that No. 22. He’ll be growing large in the rearview mirrors of Bell, Custer and Reddick, especially when the series turns left and right in Wisconsin and North Carolina.

FIVE: Truck. Series. Playoffs.

Ross Chastain? Yep. Austin Hill? Yep. Tyler Ankrum? Yep.

Three new faces grace the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series field, along with five we’ve seen before. Chastain, Ankrum, Hill and Stewart Friesen all notched their first truck wins of their careers this year, with the former three appearing for the first time in the playoffs.

The series itself, and its playoffs, are always exciting, but this field could make for one of the best yet. Grant Enfinger has been consistent all season, albeit without scoring a win, as has ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton. Meanwhile, their other teammate Johnny Sauter has one win, but has been mildly inconsistent as of late.

Defending series champion Brett Moffitt has been in position to win a number of races this year, seeming to effortlessly make the transition to the GMS Racing No. 24 after Hattori Racing wasn’t able to bring him back.

On that note, let’s look at Shigeaki Hattori’s race team. That No. 16 is in the championship hunt once again, this time with Hill behind the wheel. Hill shocked the world at Daytona, leading 39 laps en route to a commanding victory to open the season. He added three poles over the course of the regular season, with seven more top-10s — including a victory last week at Michigan, with Hattori Racing winning for the second year in a row at the oval.

Half of the playoff field scored their first wins in 2019. Friesen was the most recent, finally breaking through on his home turf: dirt. The driver of the No. 52 scored that victory at Eldora.

Finally, Ankrum and Chastain round out the playoff field. Ankrum ran well all season, outrunning everyone at Kentucky for his maiden win. Meanwhile, Chastain has become the story we all love in racing; piloting the No. 45 for Niece Motorsports, a small team, he scored three wins and declared for series points midway through the season, meeting the points requirements and adding two of those wins to lock himself into the playoffs.

This is bound to be an exciting three months of playoff truck racing. Buckle up (in your truck), folks.

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About Adam Cheek

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Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. Currently attending VCU, he broadcasts and writes about sports for the college's athletic organizations. He has been a racing fan since he was three years old, inheriting this passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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12 comments

  1. Avatar

    Boring?

    What more do fans want, they never watch a cup race before? This was good racing for Michigan standards to be honest. I still hate the dirty air (see Hamlin run down Truex at the end of stage 1 being .3s faster a lap then got stuck behind him once they cleared lap traffic). Otherwise there was a lot of good racing around the track with multiple grooves. I do wish NBC would have covered better as drivers came to the finish, I have 0 idea of who ran out of fuel and who didn’t as the only car I remember seeing finish the race was Harvick and the 9 being out of fuel.

    I debated about going to the race but ultimately saved the few hundred bucks and got a lot of yard work done prior to the 3 pm start time.

    Also I had no issues with my Hulu stream this weekend….we will not speak about last weekend….that was brutal.

    • Avatar

      “What more do fans want, they never watch a cup race before? ”

      I agree. People have ridiculous expectations as to how a race should unfold. If they don’t think there will be long green flag runs at most races then they haven’t been fans for long. Sometimes I think there are fans that would just like to see restarts the entire time. Run 10 laps, throw a caution, line them back up, restart, run 10 laps, throw a caution, line them back up, restart, etc..

      There are lots of things wrong with NASCAR but the real problem for many is their lack of attention span. They want it to be like a video game with non-stop thrills. It was never that way, ever.

      • Avatar

        Don’t even get me started on the video games, Got NASCAR heat 3 and I can slam the wall at 200 mph, actually go backwards and hit another car head on, go into the pits and repair the damage and go back out and win the race! That is just pathetic! I grew up playing NASCAR 2000 where if you hit the wall you had to make significant repairs, deal with handling issues, and could actually randomly drop an engine. I absolutely HATE that they have eliminated DNF’s within the video games and made them more like arcade games.

        I agree with that take, maybe that is part of what fans want. Seems most post analysis on youtube make great mentions about the restarts and how awesome they were. My take is that no matter what sport or who it is the negative voice on tweeter will always be the larger voice cause people like to hear themselves bitch more than they do talking positive.

        • Avatar

          LOL… I see a struck a nerve with the video game reference. I can’t say that I have ever played any of the NASCAR video games but your observation about how the video games now works speaks loudly to me. Unfortunately not just with NASCAR but with the larger world.

          So the video game basically has removed any repercussions from bad decisions or mistakes. I can do stupid things and it will still work out for me. I can goof off at school and the government will take care of me if I have no skills. I can walk across the street looking at my phone and people behind the wheel will stop for me. I can do the bare minimum at work and my wage will still increase. Etc, etc, etc.. This unfortunately, is what an entire generation has been brought up to believe is the way things should work.

          Apologize for the rant. I relinquish the soap box.

          • Avatar

            LOL yea ditto

            Sounds about where we are now 🙁 but we will keep it to the racing 🙂

            There is some aero and engine damage as in, aero you just wont hit max speed but no ill effect on handling at least that I dont notice. Oh and despite turning off all drive assist it still feels like it has an assist, I can pedal to the medal Atlanta the entire way around and the car will slow…(brake?)…despite all assist being off, just stupid, I should be slamming the wall. The engine overheating, just take it to pit road for repairs..all of it…take it all to pit road for a new car from the shop

  2. Avatar

    Ken – correction: the most brainless Jimmy Johnson move was taking out Marty Truex in last yesr’s ROVAL.

    • Avatar

      He wheel hopped trying to push the car hard into the braking zone, the man wants to win, wouldn’t call it brainless. I would say the most brainless moment in the roval race was “once again” Brad K. and Kyle B. trying to duel eachother into turn 1 and overdriving the corner….they did this a few years ago at the Glenn and then did it again at the Roval, like a game of chicken…who will hit the brakes first lol.

      • Avatar

        The fact that Johnson knocked himself out of the playoffs in making that move shows that it was kind of brainless. If I recall he said he shouldn’t have went that route after the race. That move showed just how desperate he has been the last few years.

        • Avatar

          Yes, during his post race interview (hindsight) he regretted the decision to go for the win. However, at that moment in time he thought he was safe as Kyle Larson has problems. After JJ spun and Larson slammed his way back across the line due to that random car stalling. Larson made the cut and JJ was out all cause of 1 position. So 2 things happened there, JJ lost several positions by spinning, having to stop and the restart due to missing the turn, some random car stalled (forget who it was) and Larson then was informed that he must finish ahead of that car to get in so he slammed the outside wall in hilarious fashion IMO to get across the line. So at the end of the day I was happy to see JJ say F the chase and go for the win because this sport IMO is built on guys going for the win

          • Avatar

            Agree with drivers going for the win championship be damned, just pointing out that it wasn’t a smart thing to do and, was therefore, brainless by definition. The higher goal of the playoffs is to win the championship, not just one race.

  3. Avatar

    Correction: Jimmie Johnson hasn’t won a points paying race in two years. Don’t forget, he won the exhibition race at Daytona this past February, though he had to do it by pulling just about the most brainless, boneheaded move that wiped out nearly the entire field to do it.