Following this past weekend’s NASCAR action at Michigan, only three races remain before the start of the playoffs. The FireKeepers Casino 400 certainly did its part to shake up the NASCAR Cup Series standings. Veteran driver Kevin Harvick scored his first win in nearly two calendar years. In doing so, he became the 15th driver to win a race this season. Suddenly, there is a real possibility that the entirety of the 2022 NASCAR Playoffs field will be comprised of race winners.
Below are the updated NASCAR Cup Series standings following the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan. Discussion of several noteworthy developments after 23 races is also included.
NASCAR Cup Series Standings Update | After Race 23 at Michigan
Refer to the table below for the updated NASCAR Cup Series points standings through 23 of 26 regular season races. The table also includes additional NASCAR Cup Series stats including Wins, Top-5 Finishes, Top-10 Finishes and Stage Wins. The table is sortable by driver and statistic for your viewing convenience.
|Car Number||Driver||Standings Points||Wins||Top-5's||Top-10's||Stage Wins|
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||145||0||0||1||0|
|47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||124||1||1||1||0|
Kevin Harvick Snaps 65-Race Winless Drought, Shakes Up NASCAR Standings
Prior to Sunday’s race at Michigan, one would have had to go all the way back to the fall of 2020 to find the last time Kevin Harvick went to victory lane in the NASCAR Cup Series. Harvick endured a stretch of 65 starts without taking a single checkered flag. What made this dry spell even more surprising is that it came after he led all drivers with nine victories in the 2020 season.
The entire Stewart-Haas Racing organization struggled mightily last year. To the surprise of many, Harvick and the No. 4 team were not an exception to this. After teammate Chase Briscoe won back in the spring, there was hope that Harvick would do likewise. Although it wound up taking another five months, the 46-year-old finally snapped his winless slump.
Harvick went into the FireKeepers Casino 400 over 80 points out of the playoffs. As such, the writing was pretty much on the wall for the No. 4 team. A win was what they needed, and a win is what they obtained. Given that he has accumulated the ninth-most NASCAR standings points of any driver, Harvick is now firmly locked into the playoffs regardless of how many more new winners emerge in the regular season’s final three races.
Winless Drivers Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr. Separated by 19 Points for Final Playoff Spot
With Kevin Harvick winning at Michigan, the outlook of the playoff bubble was altered drastically. As there have now been 15 unique race winners this season, only one of the 16 playoff spots remains available to be claimed on points. Of course, should there be another new winner in the next three weeks, that would ensure that no drivers qualify on points.
Following Harvick’s win, the two drivers who are now left to battle it out on either side of the cutline are Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. Fittingly, Blaney came home fifth at Michigan with Truex just one spot behind. 19 points are all that separates the two in the NASCAR Cup Series standings ahead of Richmond.
To say that Blaney and Truex are both deserving of a spot in the playoffs would be an understatement. The former has actually accumulated the second-most points of any driver this season. While Blaney won the NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas, he has yet to emerge from a points-paying race victoriously. Meanwhile, Truex has seven stage wins on the year, more than any other driver. He also ranks fourth in total NASCAR standings points accumulated. Needless to say, it’s quite shocking to see his name below the playoff cutline with only three regular-season races left.
Blaney vs. Truex: Who Has the Edge?
So, which of Blaney and Truex figures to have a leg up in the battle between them to make the playoffs? The nod goes to the No. 19 team at Richmond where Truex has an average finish of 6.0 to Blaney’s 18.5 in the last ten races. Truex also has better stats at Watkins Glen, although both drivers are solid on the road courses. Finally, Blaney has been the more successful of the two at Daytona. This includes his outright victory in last year’s regular-season finale.
Could Concussion-Related Absence Cost Kurt Busch Spot in NASCAR Playoffs?
The FireKeepers Casino 400 marked the third straight race that Kurt Busch has missed due to a concussion. It also marked the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series top-10 finish for young Ty Gibbs who has been driving the No. 45 Toyota in Busch’s absence.
Typically, NASCAR requires drivers to run all 26 regular season races in order to be eligible for the playoffs. However, because Busch has only missed races due to an unplanned medical ordeal, there is no doubt that he would receive an exemption. That said, there is still cause for concern regarding the 44-year-old being able to race for a series championship. This starts with Wednesday’s announcement that Gibbs will fill in for Busch yet again at Richmond.
Thanks to missing multiple races, Busch now has the fewest NASCAR standings points of any one-win driver. He is also behind the first four winless drivers who are currently below the playoff cutline. Thus, if two of those drivers win races between now and the end of the regular season, Busch could ultimately wind up on the outside of the NASCAR Playoffs looking in despite having won a race.
While this would be the most unfortunate of circumstances, it must be noted as a possibility. Adding a tad bit more drama to the whole situation is the fact that Busch’s 23XI Racing teammate, Bubba Wallace, currently sits just eight standings points ahead of him. Many have pegged Wallace as a viable contender to win the season finale at Daytona, a track where he excels. If, say Blaney or Truex win one of the next two races, a Wallace win at Daytona could very well wind up knocking his veteran teammate out of the postseason field!
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