The NASCAR Cup Series took on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for the first time ever on Sunday, Aug. 15. AJ Allmendinger locked up his first-ever win at Indianapolis and helped out another veteran driver. His win ensured that Denny Hamlin will compete in the playoffs.
The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry entered Sunday’s race winless and in need of some help to make the playoffs, especially after Kyle Larson tied him in the points standings. With three races remaining in the regular season, there was a scenario where three new winners could knock Hamlin out of contention, so he needed a repeat winner to take the checkered flag.
Hamlin’s salvation arrived in the form of Allmendinger. The full-time Xfinity Series driver is not eligible for the Cup Series playoffs, so he mathematically ensured that the driver of the No. 11 would make it into the playoffs. Even if two new drivers won at Michigan and Daytona International Speedway, Hamlin would still sit above the playoff cut line and would be eligible to participate in the chase for the championship trophy.
Allmendinger Helped 2 Other Drivers Lock Up Their Spots
Hamlin may have finished 23rd overall after Briscoe spun him off the track, but he no longer has to stress about making the playoffs. Similarly, two Ford drivers can rest easy knowing that they will be participating in the Round of 16, starting at Darlington Raceway.
When Allmendinger reached Victory Lane, he also locked Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell into the playoffs. The two Ford drivers had previously won races to reach the playoffs, but they did not have secure spots. There were still scenarios where other drivers could win and knock them out of the playoffs.
Now, however, the two drivers will move forward knowing that they are ready to compete for the championship trophy. They can simply focus on stacking playoff points and trying to move on to the Round of 12, the Round of eight, and the championship four. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but they no longer have to stress about reaching the playoffs.
2 Spots Remain in the Cup Series Playoff Picture
With the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway complete, there are now two races remaining in the regular season. Interestingly enough, this is the exact number of playoff spots left after Hamlin clinched on Aug. 15.
Kevin Harvick and Tyler Reddick currently sit above the cut line, albeit in very different positions. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver entered the race with a sizable advantage over Reddick and the other bubble drivers after six top-five finishes and 16 top-10s in the first 23 races. Harvick did not quite achieve the same level of success at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after being involved in a massive on-track incident that sent the race to overtime, but he still walked away with a 14th-place finish and a 95-point lead over the cut line.
Reddick, on the other hand, had a 15-point advantage over teammate Austin Dillon. He built upon this lead early by winning the first two stages of the race. Like Harvick, Reddick’s stock car also suffered extensive damage during one of the late incidents, but he turned in a 21st-place finish while Dillon ended the day early in 31st. Reddick now sits 28 points above his teammate with two races remaining.
The two drivers will continue to fight for wins and playoff points during the remaining regular-season races. The first on the schedule will be the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan Speedway on Sunday, Aug. 22. They will then head to Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, Aug. 28, for the Coke Zero Sugar 400.