Brickyard 400 provides one final shot to get into 2019 playoffs
Fourteen Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers already have cemented their positions in the 16-driver 2019 playoffs, heading into Sunday's Big Machine Vodka 400 at The Brickyard. Sunday's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the 26th race of the season, making it the regular-season finale.
Four drivers -- Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson -- still are in positions to claim one of the two remaining playoff spots on points. The only shot for any of the remaining drivers to make the playoffs, though, is winning the Brickyard 400.
Bowyer is in the best position among the four aforementioned drivers, 15th in the poins standings, eight points ahead of Suarez, the driver on the provisional bubble of 16th in the standings, and Newman, the first driver on the outside looking in. Suarez and Newman are tied for the 16th and final advancing position, but Suarez heads into Indy with the final advancing spot, courtesy of a tie-breaker.
“I live for pressure; that’s why I’m here,” Suarez said. “I feel like if you’re a race car driver, and you don’t like pressure, you’re in the wrong business. As a driver, you always have pressure, whether it’s from sponsors to perform, the playoffs or something else.”
Suarez is on the provisional bubble, but his position there is shaky, considering Newman only has two score more than one point than him to take his provisional playoff berth.
"There are a lot of teams that would like to be in our situation,” Indiana native Newman said. "There are a lot of teams better than our situation, but there are a lot that would love to be fighting for a playoff berth. We will do what we can to be the best we can with the Acorns Ford and enjoy the race. It is home for me."
Then, there's Johnson. He trails the duo of Newman and Suarez by 18 points, and Bowyer by 26 points. Although he mathematically has a shot of pointing his way into the post season, of course, his best shot is to win Sunday. Johnson hasn't won anywhere in over two seasons, but he's a four-time Brickyard 400 winner, most of any active driver.
"There is some pressure to go out and win this weekend, but that is what we do every weekend,” Johnson said. "We go to a track with the intention to contend for wins. If I look back over the first half of the season, I see a lot of races where we gave away a few points. It’s kind of unfair to put all the pressure on one race in Indy, but that is where we are right now. It’s a great track to win at. We know what we have to do this weekend.”
Bowyer, Suarez and Newman are winless at the Brickyard. Other than Johnson, the only active driver not already in the playoffs with a Brickyard 400 win is Paul Menard.