Surprise driver finds himself on the playoff bubble

Martin Truex Jr. now finds himself on the NASCAR Cup Series playoff bubble, despite the fact that he sits in fourth place in the point standings.

After taking his first NASCAR Cup Series pole position in four years at Joe Gibbs Racing on Saturday afternoon, Martin Truex Jr. dominated Sunday afternoon’s race, the Ambetter 301, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, winning the first and second stages to take the series lead in stage wins with seven.

However, a late call for two tires did not pay off, and Truex found his #19 Toyota mired back in the pack in dirty air, something he hadn’t had to deal with at all earlier in the race.

The all-time laps led leader at the four-turn, 1.058-mile (1.703-kilometer) oval in Loudon, New Hampshire — among non-winners at the track — was able to work his way back up through the field and finish in fourth place, tying his season-best finish (Richmond Raceway), but that was not what he wanted to see in terms of the playoff picture.

Teammate Christopher Bell won the race, making him the 14th different winner through the season’s first 20 races.

Bell entered this race sitting in eighth place in the point standings, but because eight drivers below him in the standings had won, he found himself as the 16th and final driver above the cut line — and one of just three drivers above the cut line on points.

While Bell didn’t pass Truex in points, his win placed him with the other 13 winners in the playoff picture, ahead of Truex and all of the other non-winners.

As a result, Truex is now the 16th and final driver above the playoff cut line, despite the fact that he sits all the way up in fourth in the point standings.

Truex is now one of only two drivers who sit above the playoff cut line on points. The other is Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, who sits in third in the standings, 37 points ahead of Truex.

The highest driver outside of the playoff picture is Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, who sits 68 points behind Truex.

But while this sizable 68-point gap to the cut line may make it seem like Truex should be considered safe, he is anything but comfortable.

Another new winner over the course of the regular season’s final six races would bump the cut line up and thus eliminate this advantage, putting Truex on the outside looking in. He hasn’t missed the playoffs since the 2014 season.

Truex is still seeking his first win since last September when he won the round of 16 playoff race at Richmond Raceway. He is on a 28-race win drought, and that win drought could very well cost him a playoff spot, even if he finishes as high as second place in the regular season standings.

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