Bubba Wallace entered last weekend’s ‘Verizon 200 at the Brickyard’ NASCAR Cup Series race in relatively good shape as far as making the NASCAR Playoffs is concerned. The 23XI Racing driver was 15th in the standings a full 36 points ahead of Michael McDowell(16th) and 38 markers above the cutline. However, that race held on the road course at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway proved to be a worst case scenario for the Mobile, Alabama native.
Neither Wallace nor McDowell had a victory to their credit entering that event but due to the fact that, unlike last season, there had not been an overabundance of race winners, both would have made the Playoffs had the cut occurred at that time. But, of course, it did not.
Where the story turned in the wrong direction for Wallace was when McDowell won the race, and thus, clinched a spot in the 10-race run for the championship. What it ultimately meant was that there is no cushion for the No. 23 Toyota team as they are now perched on the bubble.
Although not a particularly great road course runner, Sunday’s race at IMS was not necessarily a disaster for Wallace. He had no major mishaps and ultimately finished 18th in the final running order. But McDowell’s win combined with a solid third-place effort from Daniel Suarez, who is now in the mix for a Playoff spot, have placed Bubba in a precarious position. And unfortunately for him, the next race is also going to be on another road course.
Wallace is only 28 points ahead of Suarez in the battle for the final Playoff position based on points. Similar results as last weekend, including stage points, would more than erase that advantage and place Wallace on the outside looking in.
Furthermore, there are several drivers who are not currently locked into the Playoffs who are more than capable of winning on Sunday at Watkins Glen International. A victory by Suarez, Chase Elliott, Ty Gibbs, Alex Bowman, A.J. Allmendinger, Austin Cindric, Justin Haley or anyone else outside the top-16 would spell disaster as none of those drivers currently has a win and would vault into the mix with a victory.
With all that said, Wallace could turn in another solid performance with no major mistakes but still be knocked out of the picture.
On the bright side, the final race of the regular season will be held at the Daytona International Speedway, a place where this driver has performed well in the past. If need be, the 2.5-mile super speedway would provide Wallace with a fighting chance make his way in among the sixteen drivers who will compete for championship glory. But at the same time, it is a track that can produce calamity as well.
McDowell’s win on Sunday combined with a good run by Suarez now place Bubba Wallace in a position in which an OK day might not be OK at Watkins Glen.
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