The inaugural street race in Chicago ended with rookie Ty Gibbs sitting just above the playoff cutline with 378 points. Bubba Wallace was just ahead of him with 387 points while Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell were the first two drivers below the cutline.
The situation has now changed after incidents collected Wallace and Gibbs. They both fell below the cutline. Wallace is now three points out of a playoff spot after a 25th-place finish while Gibbs is 26 points out after a 33rd-place finish.
Gibbs was collected in multiple incidents. He slapped the wall after contact from Erik Jones and then he had nowhere to go after Corey LaJoie went spinning toward the outside wall. Gibbs hit the No. 7 broadside and then Ross Chastain made hard contact with the side of the No. 54.
Wallace, for comparison, was in a position to potentially score a top-10 finish. He ended Stage 2 in the sixth position, but he made the decision to pit for fuel despite having more in his tank than other drivers in the top 10.
Wallace began to work his way toward the top 10 once again, but Ryan Preece spun after a bump from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The No. 41 collected Wallace’s No. 23 and sent it sliding on the apron. This was the final caution before rain began falling, which meant that Wallace ended the day in the 25th position.
Suarez and McDowell, who both gambled by staying out after Stage 2 of the Atlanta race, are currently above the cutline. They are in a tie with 407 points, which still puts them in a tenuous position heading into the final seven regular-season races.
A Steady March Forward for a Veteran Driver
There have been several winless drivers battling for the spots remaining above the cutline. Gibbs, Suarez, and Wallace are only examples of those that have been on both sides of the cutline.
One driver that has started making a push toward the playoffs is AJ Allmendinger. The driver of the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet started his season with a sixth-place finish in the Daytona 500, but he then had six finishes outside of the top 20.
Allmendinger fell to 27th in the points after a crash at Talladega Superspeedway, but he has since turned his season around. He delivered 14th-place finishes at Kansas Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and World Wide Technology Raceway. He then added top-10s at Sonoma Raceway and Nashville Superspeedway.
The race at Atlanta Motor Speedway marked Allmendinger’s best finish of the season. He was one of multiple drivers that gambled and stayed out on the track as rain approached. He took the lead from Brad Keselowski and started the final stage on the front row.
William Byron and Suarez both passed Allmendinger before rain brought the race to an end, but he was still able to leave the Georgia track with a third-place finish and some bonus points from Stage 2. This moved him up to 18th in the standings and only 13 points behind Suarez and McDowell.
Alex Bowman’s Recent Issues Continued
One of the biggest movers in recent weeks is Alex Bowman. The driver of the No. 48 Ally Racing Chevrolet Camaro missed four races due to a fractured vertebra, but he returned at Charlotte Motor Speedway and kept himself on the cutline with a 12th-place finish.
Bowman continued to hover around the cutline through a 26th-place finish at World Wide Technology Raceway, a 13th-place finish at Sonoma Raceway, and a 17th-place finish at Nashville Superspeedway.
The situation has since changed with races in Illinois and Georgia. Contact from Denny Hamlin sent Bowman spinning and then the engine expired after he made a trip to pit road. This led to a 37th-place finish, which dropped Bowman to 20th in the standings.
The race at Atlanta had another incident that collected both Bowman and Hamlin. This time, the No. 48 broke free as the two drivers raced next to each other and it sent the No. 11 spinning. Bowman initially got his Chevrolet straightened back out but Hamlin’s Toyota went back across its nose.
The damage led to repairs as Bowman fell a lap down. He worked his way back onto the lead lap, but heavy rainfall led to the race ending with him scored in the 26th position.
Bowman left Atlanta Motor Speedway with 11 points, which led to him falling another two spots. He is now 22nd in the standings with seven races remaining in the regular season.