Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Is Alex Bowman Above the Playoff Cut Line Good for the Points System?

Alex Bowman has pointed his way back above the NASCAR Cup Series playoff cut line despite missing three races. Is that a good or bad thing about the way points are awarded?

Luken Glover: In Alex Bowman‘s case, it is a good thing. It shows how good Bowman was in the first 10 races to be absent for those three events, yet still easily be in contention when he returned. With William Byron‘s three wins and the speed of Kyle Larson, it’s easy to forget how strong Bowman was prior to his injury. He was leading the series in top 10s with six, including six of the first seven races, and he still boasts the highest average finish of full-time drivers. He deserves to be in the hunt.

Andrew Stoddard: The current points format isn’t perfect, but this is one thing it gets right. Under previous points systems, if a driver missed one race, whether it was due to suspension, injury or other reasons, their championship bid was over. With the present-day points system, drivers now have multiple options for bouncing back into the playoff picture, either through a race win or consistently racking up stage points. Bowman has only one finish outside the top 15 and no DNFs in his 11 starts, and he has been rightfully rewarded for that performance.

Zach Gillispie: Did you know that the top six drivers in points are separated by just 17 points after 14 races? Wow! That would be such an epic points battle. But nope. It is all for not because the playoff system makes a points-lead battle irrelevant. That is the bigger issue compared to Bowman. So let’s just scrap the playoffs and make it a true 36-race-long battle to win the championship.

Mike Neff: Points are awarded to the drivers/teams who perform the best. The No. 48 team has been at a high level this season, so it isn’t surprising that Bowman is in contention after the absence. If you don’t like him being eligible, beat him.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: Just Say 'No' to Playoff Waivers Like Chase Elliott's

Do you agree with NASCAR on FOX broadcaster Mike Joy’s assessment of Ryan Blaney as one of NASCAR’s biggest stars?

Phil Allaway: Ryan Blaney is one of the sport’s bigger stars, but not one of the biggest. He’s done very well in his career but really hasn’t produced enough to put himself on the highest pedestal. He’s been a very good driver and won a number of races. Even though he didn’t win for 59 races prior to Monday, he’s probably been one of the top five or six drivers for the last couple of years. However, due to the increased emphasis on winning now, being one of the best drivers doesn’t matter as much if you’re not winning. Because of that, there are likely experts that would put someone like Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ahead of him prior to Monday since Stenhouse had won a race and Blaney hadn’t. It is one of the true downsides of having a playoff. It skews everything.

Vito Pugliese: NASCAR’s issue is that there aren’t any stars to speak of, certainly not to the caliber of the ones we had 20 or even 10 years ago. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still probably the most recognizable name in the sport, as well as Richard Petty and Jeff Gordon. While it is a testament to their legacies, it is NOT a good sign for NASCAR. Beyond actual NASCAR fans, can any casual sports fan name a NASCAR driver other than maybe Bubba Wallace? I’d wager money they can’t. Even Larson, who wins in virtually everything he sits in and is driving in the Indianapolis 500 next year, is a virtual unknown and barely sponsorable after an online incident in 2020. It is an issue with the sport when some of the more marketable drivers aren’t winning regularly, like Wallace or Hailie Deegan.

Neff: Of the younger drivers in the sport, Blaney is definitely a star. He has a common man aura that helps fans relate to him. He can win on any track, and, often to his detriment, he is one of the cleanest drivers in the sport. After the next round of drivers retires in the next couple of years, Blaney will be one of the top five stars.

Glover: Absolutely. Blaney still has to prove that he can consistently close out races, but he is still just 29 years old, and he looked awfully good at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Plus, there are a couple of future Hall of Famers whose numbers are comparable to Blaney’s when they were at that stage of their careers. NASCAR is lacking household names, and Blaney could be one of them. He is certainly a star right now and is just a bloop and a blast away from being considered a superstar.

Since Keith Rodden returned from his two-race suspension, Austin Dillon has scored two top 10s, albeit still 30th in the points. Will Dillon rebound to make the playoffs?

Pugliese: I feel he will. There are a few teams that just aren’t up to speed this year that would be battling the No. 3 for position, and Richard Childress Racing is going to continue to improve as an organization as it reaps dividends from having Kyle Busch as a driver. Austin Dillon is often maligned given his connection to his grandfather, the team owner, but he’s typically running within a few positions of a driver that is mentioned amongst some legitimate legends of the sport. I don’t see the team falling off, and it will only get better as the summer drags on.

Allaway: As of right now, Dillon is 102 points behind Bowman, the last driver in the playoffs on points. There is the potential of someone currently behind Bowman winning a race between now and Daytona International Speedway. While yes, Dillon is running better, he would need to win to get in. The best-case scenario might be a repeat of last year, where Dillon won the Coke Zero Sugar 400 to get in after everyone wrecked when it rained. He’s not getting in if he doesn’t win.

Stoddard: A pattern has started to form in Dillon’s Cup career. In 2018, 2020 and 2022, Dillon won one race each of those years to clinch a playoff berth. In 2019 and 2021, Dillon went winless and missed the playoffs. Additionally, Dillon’s average finish of 21.2 is the worst since his second full-time Cup season back in 2015. Expect the No. 3 to be on the outside looking in for the playoffs, continuing the trend of not making it in odd-numbered years.

Neff: Having Busch in the fold at RCR is helping the whole organization. As the season progresses, expect to see the No. 3 continue to get better. A win will probably happen before the regular season ends, and that will put him in the playoffs.

Gillispie: No. There really is not much potential for Dillon to come charging back from the pits of mediocrity, because hey, the pit of mediocrity is a great definition for his career.

See also
Truckin' Thursdays: Zane Smith, Carson Hocevar Impressing in Upper-Series Starts

Where do you predict Rajah Caruth will race in 2024?

Stoddard: Outside of a sixth-place finish at Darlington Raceway, Rajah Caruth has no other top 10s in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season and has generally not shown enough progress to warrant a promotion to a full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series ride. Besides, it looks like very few quality Xfinity rides will be available in 2024, though it is early in the silly season. The best move for Caruth right now is to stick to a similar schedule in 2024, going full-time in the Trucks with the occasional Xfinity start. If there is a noticeable uptick in top 10s and points, then he could be ready for the next step.

Glover: Caruth has scored just one top 10 in 11 races in the Truck Series. However, he has shown speed on multiple occasions and flashes of being able to run up front. Rookie mistakes and unfortunate circumstances have plagued him this season more than once. Teams have to be careful in how they progress the 20-year-old. He is definitely talented but has a lot to learn. With GMS Racing likely switching to Toyota, Chevrolet will almost certainly want to keep Caruth. That is where Kyle Busch Motorsports comes into play. Chase Purdy is the only full-time driver for the team, so there is definitely room at KBM. He will also likely make some more part-time starts in the Xfinity Series with Alpha Prime Racing.

Allaway: For 2024, Caruth will be in one of two places. One is back in the Truck Series with GMS for a second year. The other is in the Xfinity Series, likely with APR. Based on his driving style, he’d do better in the Xfinity Series. He seems to prefer a really loose vehicle, and that doesn’t jive very well with trucks. The Xfinity car is likely better for his driving style. He’s not the only driver in Trucks with that predicament (Deegan might be in that situation as well). The problem is, he could probably benefit substantially from a second year alongside Grant Enfinger, a man who Caruth said he believes is a great help to him.

Gillispie: Caruth has really struggled in the No. 24 truck (he sits 17th in points with just one top 10). It is difficult to say if he will have a home in trucks next year, but with the great relationship he’s built with Tommy Joe Martins and Alpha Prime over the last few years, he will likely continue to be in and out of an APR car in 2024.

Pugliese: Would like to see him stay where he is for another season. He has shown speed in a few races this year, but he needs to finish races where he’s running. There’s been some early exits and post-crash assessments that were inaccurate at best. It’s just a driver maturity thing (not that he’s immature) and something that will just come with starts, seat times and experience. He’s only 20 years old, remember, and is in a sport where most drivers don’t truly hit their stride for another 5-10 years. He’s on par with other drivers his age with similar experience.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He has a new day job as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Phillip Holmes

The Vito dude must not think much of NASCAR.. Kyle Busch has 2 championships and has more wins in all 3 series that anyone. Says no one can remember anyone but Earnhardt, Gordon or Petty. I can remember almost every one that has run and won in last 50 years…Phillip

Share via