Brooklyn, MI – There’s just four races left in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. With that being said, the playoff battles for the final few spots are heating up. There’s currently 13 drivers locked into a playoff spot, but if someone new can win over the next four weeks, well they will be into the playoffs too.
With just three wildcard spots open and four regular season races left counting Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN) at the Michigan International Speedway, there’s some drivers on this list that would like to reach victory lane in the Irish Hills this weekend.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The Roush/Fenway Racing driver doesn’t need to win as he’s already locked himself in with two victories already this season. But, both of those wins came on restrictor plate tracks, as Stenhouse is hoping to show he can run with the best of them away from plate circuits too.
In practice on Friday, Stenhouse was 15th quickest. In qualifying, he made the second round and will start his No. 17 Ford in 14th on Sunday.
Stenhouse is showing he has the car to contend.
The Michigan native has two top five finishes in his in his two NASCAR feeder series starts on his home track. He finished 13th here back in June. But, Jones has had three top 10 finishes over the last five races and is getting better and better as the season has gone on.
Unfortunately, if he wants to be a part of this year’s playoffs in his rookie season, he’s going to need to win a race. Maybe Michigan is that spot.
Jones, was 12th in practice on Friday and qualified his No. 77 Toyota eighth. In practice on Saturday, he was seventh and 12th.
The Furniture Row Racing driver said that they are going to be overly aggressive the rest of the way to give themselves a shot at winning and being playoff bound.
With Toyota drivers leading 88-percent of the overall laps the last five races, and Jones being a Toyota driver with speed this weekend, mix all of that with a track that you can stretch fuel in the end, he will be a big factor on Sunday.
Kyle Larson is a two-mile king. He’s won the last two Michigan races as well as sweeping the Cup and XFINITY Series race weekend at Michigan’s sister track in Fontana back in March. So, why wouldn’t his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate have a hot rod under him too?
McMurray, was 11th in practice on Friday, then 11th and 10th on Saturday morning. He qualified his No. 1 Chevrolet seventh for Sunday’s race.
With the Missouri native needing a win to make themselves feel better about their playoff hopes, this could be the weekend to do so.
Blaney has had a fast car this weekend with being quickest in practice on Friday, fourth in both practices on Saturday and fastest in the first two rounds of qualifying on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, he had a bobble in the third and final round of qualifying and will start 12th on Sunday as a result of that.
But, he has enough time to move back up the field in the 400-mile race and he’s proving he has a quick car to do so.
Blaney, is obviously wanting to flip his luck, as since his win at Pocono back in June, five of his last eight races have resulted in the Wood Brothers driver finishing 19th or worse, including a 25th place effort here back in June.
He’s yet to nab a top five in that same time frame.
Maybe that changes on Sunday.
The first driver out in the playoff grid right now knows he needs to win. Yes, he’s less than 30 points out, but that’s going to be tough to make up with a driver he’s chasing like Matt Kenseth.
This could be his weekend.
Ford power has been the preferred power so far this weekend with taking the top three spots in the starting lineup. Bowyer, qualified his No. 14 Ford a respectable 11th.
In practice on Friday, he was sixth on the speed charts.
I wouldn’t count him out.