Playoff watch: The chase tightens with two races to go

Chase Elliott’s misfortune and Matt Kenseth’s excellence means only 18 points separate the three drivers provisionally in the Cup Series playoff field with two races to go in the regular season.

Kenseth finished fourth at Bristol Saturday night while Elliott finished 18th after a spin with 104 laps to go.

Elliott officially started fourth and had a top-10 car for most of the evening. But he made contact with Kevin Harvick off a corner and slid into the inside wall. The contact wasn’t heavy enough to cause significant damage to either Elliott’s car or his position in the points standings.

Had he finished 30th or so, the gap between him and Kenseth would be even closer. Kenseth currently trails by 15 points while Jamie McMurray occupies the final provisional spot. McMurray, who finished 12th on Saturday, is three back of Kenseth and 18 back of Elliott.

The aforementioned three — as you probably know by now — are winless and the final three drivers in the 16-driver playoff field via their standings in the points. And given how much of Saturday night’s race went, the three could have suddenly found themselves deadlocked in a fight for two spots.

Erik Jones started first Saturday night and led 260 of the race’s 500 laps. Jones finished second after he was passed by Kyle Busch with 55 laps to go. A Jones win would have added a 14th driver into the playoff field via wins and put McMurray as the last driver in the playoffs and Kenseth as the first one on the outside.

[Kyle Busch wins at Bristol, sweeps all three weekend races]

“I wish we would have had a little bit more,” Jones said. “It’s a bummer. It’s a great weekend for us, you can’t take that away … but you still wish you could have had that little bit more and grabbed the win.”

Kenseth, who briefly passed Jones for second after Busch took the lead, claimed he was too focused on winning the race to worry about the potential playoff implications of a Jones win.

[Full results from Bristol]

“I wasn’t really thinking about the playoffs, I was thinking about winning the race and I really didn’t think about anything else,” Kenseth said.

Joey Logano, the second driver outside the playoff field, finished 13th. The Cup Series is off Aug. 26 before races at Darlington and Richmond before the playoffs begin in Chicago.

Here’s how the points standings look among winless drivers.

IN
Chase Elliott, 711 points
Matt Kenseth, 703 points
Jamie McMurray, 700 points

OUT
Clint Bowyer, 642 points
Joey Logano, 583 points
Erik Jones, 574 points
Daniel Suarez, 537 points

Kenseth (L) finished fourth while McMurray finished 12th Saturday night. (Getty)

– – – – – – –

Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!