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Opinion: Summer Scramble

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After last Sunday’s surprise win by Justin Haley – and that’s putting it mildly – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series gets back to business this weekend at Kentucky Speedway. Haley’s shocking win under admittedly bizarre circumstances did more than capture headlines and trigger passionate conversation around the NASCAR world this week. It also took away one opportunity for someone to lock themselves into the playoffs.

Haley and his Spire Motorsports team are not eligible for the playoffs because since the driver is declared for Xfinity Series and not Cup Series points. So his trip to Victory Lane just means there’s one less opportunity for those in the championship picture to guarantee a playoff berth with a win.

There are now just eight races remaining in the regular season with only seven drivers locked into the playoff picture by virtue of their wins – Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman. For everyone else, the proverbial clock is ticking.

There’s no doubt the bulk of this year’s playoff line-up will come from the point standings and who is inside the top sixteen when the final race of the regular season ends at Indianapolis in September.

Inexplicably the entire Stewart-Haas Racing team is on the list of those scrambling to advance through the points. After winning a combined twelve times a year ago – led by Harvick’s eight victories – SHR continues to have a big goose egg in the win column.

Ditto for the 1-2 punch at Chip Ganassi Racing, where Kurt Busch continues to outshine his teammate Kyle Larson while neither have yet taken a checkered flag.

Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Ricky Stenhouse, Austin Dillon and Chris Buescher are also former Cup Series race winners still searching for a 2019 victory.

The last regular season race scramble to make the playoffs has been a bust in recent years with most of the field decided well before the 26th race rolled around. You nearly have to go back to Jeremy Mayfield racing his way in at Richmond back in 2004 to find the kind of dramatic finish the sport was looking for when the playoff format was created.

That could change this year. It’s a longshot at best the regular season win list will reach double digits meaning at minimum a half dozen drivers will advance to the post-season through the point standings.

Which makes the next two months of the summer stretch so important. Beginning with Kentucky on Saturday night, the series will compete on a variety of tracks in the coming weeks ranging from 1.5-miles, one-mile, two-miles, 2.5-miles, a road course and a short track.

Advantage nobody. But definitely fun to watch.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.