Largely depending on their position in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, drivers say the annual 10-to-go mark in the regular season does typically mean an increase in competitive intensity.
Sure, drivers such as championship leader Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin have multiple wins already this season and are challenging one another atop the standings, but there is a lot of movement still in the bottom half of the 16-driver playoff cutoff.
William Byron in the 14th position is separated from 19th place Erik Jones by only 33 points entering Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway. Ryan Newman is currently in the 16th place – and final playoff eligible position – by a mere one point over Jimmie Johnson. And while most drivers insist it’s still too early for panic, they concede points are more and more the primary focus – both in the race and in team meetings before and after.
“I race like it is the last race of the year at every single race, from race one to race 36,’’ said Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, who is winless but ranked ninth in the standings, 77 points above the 16th-place cutoff.
“I don’t really change the way I drive depending on what part of the year it is. That is just me personally. … Sometimes maybe, people will make a little bolder moves. I think especially teams with the strategy deal with drivers that are close to the cutoff line or outside of that line may try to win the race and make a big move (to do so).
And, Blaney conceded, “I think you will see more of that. More of people playing around with stage points and maybe sacrificing track position to try to win a stage or run top three or four in a stage and then reset and try it all over again. … There might be a few more bold moves toward the end if you are close to that cutoff and trying to win the race or things like that.’’