BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 10: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John's Ford, speaks with Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Red White & Blue Toyota, during a weather delay prior to the start of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 10, 2018 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Stewart-Haas Racing has another one. Clint Bowyer acquired his second win of the season on Sunday afternoon, as rain shortened the Fire Keepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The win which was Bowyer’s second, ultimately locks him into the chase no matter how many different winners NASCAR sees in the regular season.

Harvick, Busch lead playoff push for SHR, JGR

Though, with 11 races left before the playoffs, and just six different winners so far, it’s almost certain that one victory will get a driver into the postseason. At least more certain than it already was.

Aside from the super speedway’s producing wins from Austin Dillon and Joey Logano, Bowyer and the trio of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and defending-champion Martin Truex Jr. have combined to win each of the other 13 races.

If it wasn’t for Bowyer taking two tires during the stage break before the rain hit, then Harvick, who had lead 49 laps in the race, probably would have come out on top again.

Stewart-Haas Racing On Top

Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) ended up finishing 1-2-3 with Bowyer and Harvick in the top spots and the third filled by Kurt Busch. The finish for the team was just the seventh of its kind in NASCAR history and first since Roush-Fenway Racing did it at Dover with Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards in 2008.

That’s the kind of numbers that SHR is producing right now. Even their fourth driver in Aric Almirola nearly garnered a top 10 and finished 11th.

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick

With that, the current Playoff Grid features Harvick alone in the top spot with five wins, right in front of Bowyer, while Busch and Almirola both sit over 100 points above the cutoff. On the other side of things, Kyle Busch is leading the charge for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). With four wins, Busch has been the, “Yin,” to Harvick’s, “Yang.”

After Harvick won three races in a row following the Daytona 500, Kyle Busch went on a stretch of a lifetime. First, he finished seventh at Atlanta, and then Busch rattled off four top-three finishes in a row heading into Texas.

He still hadn’t gotten a win, and it seemed like bad luck was taking over, as he just couldn’t find that elusive victory he needed to punch his ticket to the chase. Then, Busch rattled off a streak of his own. The Las Vegas, NV native went on to win the next three races, extending his top-three streak to a whopping seven races in a row.

Busch earned his fourth victory at Charlotte where he won from pole and dominated by leading 377 laps. Despite him being the only JGR driver to win this season, the team currently has three of their four drivers inside the playoff cutoff.

The Other Drivers

Denny Hamlin has been quiet, yet consistent so far. Even though he hasn’t won a race yet, Hamlin has only failed to finish in the top 20 twice in 15 races. With that consistency, it’s hard to imagine the No. 11 car missing the playoffs.

As for Erik Jones and Daniel Saurez, both drivers are only in their second full seasons in the cup series. As we have seen with other drivers in the series, mainly some at Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing, it takes a couple of seasons behind the wheel to really get into the groove and rhythm that it takes to run the 36-race schedule.

With that in mind, Jones sits in 15th in the playoff grid, which is the highest of all second-year or lesser experienced drivers. Suarez has shown glimpses of talent, even though the results haven’t come yet, and has impressed a few times, mainly when he raced his way into the All-Star Race.

Those two aren’t the only teams that are performing all the way around the garage. Roger Penske’s three-car field has been exceptional this season. As stated earlier, Joey Logano took the victory at the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega, securing the only win for the team this season.

Average Playoff Grid Spot
Stewart-Haas Racing: 6
Joe Gibbs Racing: 11.8
Penske Racing: 7.3

Although, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney haven’t been too far behind.

Keselowski nearly won at Atlanta and has earned a spot in the top six in each of the last three races and four of the last five. He also stands as the driver with the most points without a win.

Blaney on the other hand has been dominant at a few tracks this year. He lead 118, 145, and 100 laps at Daytona, Martinsville, and Bristol, respectively. Not to mention his pole position starts at both California and Pocono.

The High Point, NC native has been so close to earning a victory this season, but accidents have played a big part in keeping him out of victory lane.

Blaney’s most memorable blown opportunity of the season came at Kansas, where he was running third and got into Kyle Larson, ending both Larson’s night and his.

With 11 races to go in the regular season, SHR, JGR, and Penske are all primed to get most, if not all of their drivers into the playoffs, and have cemented themselves atop NASCAR thus far this season.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Grid
After Michigan (Race 15 of 36)
1. Kevin Harvick 5 wins
2. Kyle Busch 4 wins
3. Clint Bowyer 2 wins
4. Martin Truex Jr. 2 wins
5. Joey Logano 1 win
6. Austin Dillon 1 win
7. Brad Keselowski 514/+183
8. Kurt Busch 493/+162
9. Denny Hamlin 468/+137
10. Ryan Blaney 457/+126
11. Kyle Larson 443/+112
12. Aric Almirola 433/+102
13. Jimmie Johnson 377/+46
14. Chase Elliott 362/+31
15. Erik Jones 346/+15
16. Alex Bowman 331/Cutoff
______________________________
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr 327/-4
18. Paul Menard 327/-4
19. Jamie McMurray 283/-48
20. William Byron 277/-54
21. Daniel Suarez 265/-66
22. Ryan Newman 257/-74
23. A.J. Allmendinger 249/-82
24. Bubba Wallace 247/-84
25. David Ragan 225/-106

After an off weekend, the Cup Series returns to the track at Sonoma in the first road course race of the season. It is definitely possible to see another mix up there, as drivers like A.J. Allmendinger try to punch their ticket to the playoffs.

Remaining Regular Season Schedule
June 24: Sonoma
July 01: Chicagoland
July 07: Daytona
July 14: Kentucky
July 22: New Hampshire
July 29: Pocono
August 05: Watkins Glen
August 12: Michigan
August 18: Bristol
August 26: Off weekend*
September 2: Darlington
September 9: Indianapolis

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