Chase Elliott was the first driver this season to secure a spot in the next round of the playoffs by virtue of a race win. It took halfway through the playoffs for a driver to accomplish the feat, but the regular season champ earned his way to the Round of 8 with a thrilling last-lap pass in what was another photo finish at Talladega.
With the win, Elliott also earned himself some more bonus points when the standings reset after the next race. His 0.046 second margin of victory over his good friend Ryan Blaney left a sour taste in the Penske driver's mouth. Blaney's first win of the season was right in front of him, but Chase held on to earn his fifth victory of the year.
Blaney still collected some much-needed playoff points by winning the opening stage of the race. The driver of the No. 12 Ford Mustang is second in the standings, 32 points above the cut line with one race to go. He is a good road racer, and has won on the Charlotte ROVAL before, so he should be fine unless lady luck intervenes.
Ross Chastain scored another top-ten finish at Talladega and earned more stage points as well. The Trackhouse Racing driver is third in the playoff standings, 28 points above the cut line. He won at Circuit of the Americas earlier this season, finished fourth at Road America, and earned another top-ten at Sonoma. He is a good road racer, and should be in good shape next Sunday.
Denny Hamlin is right behind Chastain, which is so ironic. The pair have had their fair share of on-track issues this season, and while Hamlin still has not gotten his revenge, the veteran is trying to lay low as he positions himself for his first Cup title. The driver of the No. 11 Camry is 21 points above the cut line, but Toyota has really struggled on the road courses this season. He doesn't need a win, but anything outside of the top-ten could spell trouble for Hamlin and his team.
|2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings (After Race 5 of 10)
|Joe Gibbs Racing
|Stewart Haas Racing
|Joe Gibbs Racing
Joey Logano had the biggest slide in terms of playoff standing position from last week. The Penske driver got caught up in an early accident that derailed his day. He managed to keep it rolling to the tune of a 27th-place finish, but it dropped him to fifth in the standings, just 18 points above the cut line. This was the second time in the last three races that Logano has finished 27th, and he'll need to do much better if he hopes to advance next Sunday.
Aside from Elliott's win at Talladega, it was a rough week for Hendrick Motorsports. Kyle Larson was never a factor in Sunday's race, where he finished in 18th. The reigning Cup champion is now sixth in the playoff standings, tied with Logano. He has not been running up front lately, and that will need to change next weekend because he will need to have a good finish for a chance to win back-to-back titles.
Daniel Suarez continues to quietly put together decent races and finds himself 12 points above the cut line after finishing eighth at Talladega. Still viewed as an underdog, the Mexican driver could be a serious threat to win at Charlotte after earning his first career win on the twisty track at Sonoma.
Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric are tied for the eighth spot in the standings, but Briscoe holds the tiebreaker between the two. Known for being a good road racer, Briscoe has not shown it this season. His best finish in the road course races this year was a 13th-place finish at Sonoma. As the last remaining hope for Stewart Haas Racing, he could end up on the wrong side of things next Sunday.
Cindric may be mostly known for his Daytona 500 victory this year, but the rookie is arguably one of the best road racers in the garage. That bodes well for him on Sunday, as he will need a great finish if he hopes to continue in the playoffs. He finished fifth at Sonoma, seventh at Road America, second on the IMS road course, and will certainly be a contender at Charlotte.
In addition to Cindric, the other three drivers currently below the cut line are William Byron, Christopher Bell, and Alex Bowman. The two Hendrick drivers have had a week to forget, as Byron was hit with a brutal 25-point penalty for wrecking Hamlin under caution at Texas. That dropped him from third to tenth in the standings, which is where he is now. He is capable of crawling out of this hole, but the odds aren't exactly in his favor.
Bowman is facing a must-win situation after missing the Talladega race due to a concussion he suffered in his crash at Texas. The team still isn't even sure if Bowman will be cleared in time to drive next weekend, which could seal his fate for this year at least. He is currently in last, 54 points below the cut line entering the ROVAL.
Bell has had such horrible luck this season, especially considering how consistent he was in the opening round of the playoffs. He finished inside the top-five in all three races, but failed to win one of those races. That ultimately cost him dearly when the points were reset, and a bad stroke of luck found him yet again on Sunday.
After qualifying on pole, Bell spun trying to make a pit stop, and was issued a speeding penalty as well. He is 33 points below the cut line, and while he is excellent on the road courses, Toyota clearly is not this season. It will be a tall mountain to climb, but this could be the defining race of his season.