The playoff race for the NASCAR Cup Series all comes down to the final race. A fantastic result in Sunday’s race at the Dover International Speedway for the top two contenders in the race for the final spot – Jimmie Johnson and William Byron – has now opened up another major possibility. Both drivers making it through to the playoffs!
Johnson had grabbed the 16th and final playoff spot after a seventh-place finish on Saturday in the first race of the doubleheader at Dover. Byron finished 28th on Saturday.
On Sunday, Johnson lived up to his reputation at Dover and finished in third place. But Byron put Saturday’s result behind himself to rally for a fourth-place finish.
Byron earned 46 points in Sunday’s race compared to Johnson’s 39, to leapfrog Johnson again into the 16th playoff place with a four-point lead. Byron finished third and sixth in the two stages on Sunday to gain more points.
Johnson had a three-point lead over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate before the race. But what Sunday’s impressive run from both drivers does is, it makes things tougher for Matt DiBenedetto.
DiBenedetto holds the 15th spot, going into the final race at the Daytona oval next week. A poor weekend – 20th and 17th place finishes in the two races – leaves both Jimmie Johnson and William Byron with a chance to upstage DiBenedetto and make the playoffs. DiBenedetto now has a five-point lead over Byron and a nine-point lead over Johnson.
The pressure will be high for Johnson, Byron, and DiBenedetto at Daytona. However, Jimmie Johnson believes his vast experience could make all the difference.
“I’ve been doing this too long to worry too much. Championship pressure, thankfully I’ve been through that a bunch of different times,” Johnson said after Sunday’s race.
“Maybe that’s ‑ I guess actually maybe that’s where experience will play through for me this weekend and I’ll be able to keep my head on straight, think, keep my emotions in check and really race with a clear and open mind,” he added.
Meanwhile, Byron admitted that his focus will be on having a good race and hoping for the best. “I don’t think you can really points race. It’s going to be a race to be as aggressive as you can and hope things fall your way,” he said.