Points aren’t on the mind for Playoff bubble drivers heading into Atlanta

HAMPTON, GEORGIA - JULY 08: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #16 Farmsmart Chevrolet, waits on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 Available at Walmart at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 08, 2023 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway marks eight races to go before NASCAR’s postseason Playoffs begin. With eleven winners already, points positions are increasingly hard to come by.

But that doesn’t faze the drivers who currently sit on the bubble. It’s a group that intends to ignore the points and keep going for wins, if they even know their own points position.

AJ Allmendinger, who currently sits 19th in the standings, 24 points below the cutline, doesn’t focus on the standings at all.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t even worry about points. I didn’t even realize how close we were until last week when I was doing all the media for Chicago.”

In his return to full-time Cup Series competition with Kaulig Racing, his priority is growing the team and gaining consistency, whatever happens with the points.

“At the end of the day for me, if we run well we’re going to score a lot of points, and if we don’t then it doesn’t really matter. You just kind of keep trying to race the same each week.”

Ty Gibbs is also growing with a Cup Series team. In his case, he’s a rookie in the series altogether. But his Joe Gibbs Racing team is still 16th in points, six above the cutline, headed into Atlanta. Like Allmendinger, he’s focused on shoring up that consistency.

“If we gain a lot of points we’re in a better position,” Gibbs said. “We’ve got to get fifteenth and fourteenth and thirteenth and just keep working our way up.”

“Would be nice to get a win, but… I feel like we’ve been good everywhere. It’s just about getting the strategy right, me doing my job and not making mistakes, and staying consistent and we can finish well.”

While a win is the key, all but locking a driver into the postseason, cutline drivers aren’t ready to drop everything for one, although that’s always the goal.

“You win, you’re in, I think that’s the important thing,” said Bubba Wallace, who is 15th in the standings, 15 points to the good. “But if we can’t get a win then we need to rack up as many points… got to have a good fallback plan.”

As for whether winning or consistent points scoring is the goal, Justin Haley, 21st in points, 45 points out, wants it both ways.

“Both,” he said. “Is there a right answer? I don’t even know.”

“Obviously we’re trying to get in the Playoffs but we’re just trying to get better and I feel like the past few weeks we’ve done that. I think we just go out and do the best we can every weekend and learn from it.”

For drivers outside the cutline, winning is now the only option. Aric Almirola sits 27th in points in a difficult season for Stewart-Haas Racing. Starting on the pole at Atlanta, he’s prepared to be aggressive to get that win in one of his few good starts.

“You’ve got to put yourself in position. You’ve got to make bold moves in the race car. You’ve got to make bold moves pit strategy-wise,” Almirola said. “You’ve got to do whatever it takes because you’re not going to get a lot of opportunities.”



Owen Johnson