Much has been made in recent weeks about the NBA’s use of a “bubble” to ensure that it will be able to successfully finish its season and crown a champion.
The NBA just like every other sporting league or series in the country had to cease operations until it could figure out how it could safely resume. The NBA came up with its “bubble” idea as a way to keep all of its players and team officials safely tucked away from the general population at Orlando’s Disney World Resort.
While the idea of bubble is new to the NBA, NASCAR has had its own version of the bubble for several years. This bubble is also a destination of sorts for every driver in the sport as it is the term used for the sixteenth driver in the point standings that will eventually become the final driver to make it into the Playoff field with the opportunity to run for the title over the last 10 races of the season. Just like there is two sides to every story there are also two sides to NASCAR’s bubble.
There are those drivers that at the present time find themselves above the bubble (cutoff line) and those that are just below still trying to race their way into the Playoff field.
Only seven races remain before the sixteen driver Playoff field will be set and with ten drivers already locked in after claiming a checkered flag this season, the final spots above the cutoff line are always in danger of changing after each of the remaining races.
Jimmy Johnson’s night at Kansas Speedway is an example of how a driver’s fortune can turn after just one race. The former seven-time series champion entered the race two points above the cutoff line. He started the race working his way up toward the top-10 after starting 20th but all of that ended suddenly when he was involved in a multi-car crash that resulted in his Chevrolet sustaining heavy damage. His crew worked on it but was unable to repair it to the point that he could meet the minimum speed required by NASCAR. He was forced to take his car back to the garage area thus ending his day with a 32nd place finish. The poor finish had him leaving Kansas, 18 points below the cutoff line.
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports’ teammate William Byron did not have the best of nights at Kansas but his 10th place finish showed just how much every positon counts in the races leading up to the finish of the regular season. He and interim crew chief Keith Rodden who was filling in for Chad Knaus made the decision to not pit during the closing laps of the race even though the majority of drivers came down pit road for tires and fuel.
His car was no match for those that came in and pitted but by staying out he picked up enough track position to be able to hold on to a top-10 finish. He entered Kansas just outside the cutoff line but will now go to New Hampshire this weekend occupying the 16th and final Playoff spot by ten points. It was a gamble to stay out but it emphasized just how important each spot is for those bubble drivers.
Unlike those drivers that have already punched their ticket into the Playoffs with a win, drivers like Byron and their crew chiefs must now race with the aid of a calculator to keep track of every point for not only themselves but for rest of the field still in the hunt for one of the remaining transfer spots.
PIT NOTES: NASCAR lost one of its legends over the weekend with the passing of Maurice Petty. Known as the “Chief” to everyone in the sport, he was the first engine builder to be enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2014. He was chief engine builder at Petty Enterprises and has been credited with 212 wins among six different driver with 198 of those being with his brother Richard Petty.