With nine races to go until the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, time is running out for drivers to secure themselves a spot in the playoff field.
This weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race on the streets of Chicago marks the halfway point of the 2023 season. After the Grant Park 220, drivers outside of the playoff bubble will only have eight more shots to pick up a win to effectively lock themselves in to the playoff field.
With races remaining at the Chicago Street Course, Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, and Daytona International Speedway, among others, many “wild card” opportunities still remain for winless drivers to secure a win.
Give the depth of the field, there are several drivers who currently find themselves well outside the playoff bubble but still have a shot at making the playoffs.
NASCAR playoff bid stealers: No. 1 – A.J. Allmendinger
This weekend’s race presents a golden opportunity for one driver in particular. Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger currently sits in 19th place in the point standings and is 24 points behind Trackhouse Racing Team’s Daniel Suarez, who currently holds the 16th and final playoff position.
Allmendinger is among the top “road course ringers” in the Cup Series, and he is almost always in contention for the win on road course weekends.
Furthermore, both of Allmendinger’s career Cup Series wins have come at road courses in Watkins Glen International and Indianapolis. Both are set to host races before this year’s playoffs begin. Allmendinger most recently won the inaugural Cup Series race at the Indianapolis road course in 2021, a year in which he only ran five races.
On top of Allmendinger’s past success at NASCAR’s road courses, street racing is not a new concept for the California native. In his four seasons in CART (2004 to 2006) and IndyCar (2013), Allmendinger raced at several street courses, including the streets of Long Beach, Exhibition Place in Toronto, and Belle Isle in Detroit. He even picked up a win in Toronto in 2006.
With the uncertainty surrounding the new Chicago Street Course, Allmendinger’s past street racing experience could prove to be a difference maker when it comes to who takes the checkered flag on Sunday.
And if Allmendinger fails to pick up a win in any of the three upcoming road/street races, it’s not impossible for him to get into the playoffs on points with strong runs at all three events, provided the cut line stays where it is.
But with several other drivers currently below the cut line looking for a win as well, hoping for it to stay put is far from a good strategy.