On the surface, Alex Bowman’s statistics make him look like one of the weakest-performing drivers left in the Cup Series playoffs.
While Bowman scored the first win of his Cup career at Chicago in July, his 10 top-10 finishes are the fewest of the 12 remaining playoff drivers. His six top-five finishes are fewer than 10 other drivers still battling for the title. And his average finish among playoff drivers is just eighth-best.
What Bowman does have, however, is the best recent performance record of any playoff driver at Dover, Talladega and Kansas, the three tracks that make up the second round of the playoffs. He finished second at each of the three tracks in the spring. And then he backed up that Dover finish on Sunday when he was third behind Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. — drivers who also finished in the top three at the first Dover race.
That finish, coupled with early-race problems for Joey Logano and Chase Elliott at Dover has Bowman seventh in the points standings heading to Talladega and 17 points up on Logano and Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron, who are tied for the eighth and final third round playoff spot. And Bowman told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that there isn’t any added pressure entering Talladega and Kansas because of the team’s great performances at those tracks in May.
“I don’t think so,” Bowman said. “I think for me, my goal going into this year was to make the round of eight. I feel like we’re capable of doing that so I think the pressure comes from me just wanting to run well and wanting to achieve my goal more so than because we ran well at these tracks in the spring.”
Stage points may be the secret to advancing to the third round. Even though he was third on Sunday, Bowman scored fewer points than the drivers behind him in fourth and fifth because he had fewer stage points than each of them.
“Stage points are more important than finishing position right now,” Bowman said. “You look at [Byron] at Sonoma who had two good stages and finished like 19th and had more points than anybody leaving. That’s a perfect example of stage points are everything right now.”
Byron started on the front row for that Sonoma race and won the first stage and finished third in the second stage. He scored 36 points — one fewer than second-place finisher Kyle Busch and two more than third-place finisher Ryan Blaney. And he scored more points than Bowman did in the first round of the playoffs.
“We beat the 24 all three of the first races of the playoffs,” Bowman said. “We outran them all three races and they outpointed us on stage points. So they’re super crucial.”
The stage points dynamic at Talladega will be fascinating. It’s likely that at least one of the first two stages will include a green-flag pit stop cycle near the conclusion. Some teams will position those pit stops for better track position at the start of the next stage while others like Bowman’s team will likely want to be up front at the end of the stage for the points that come with being in the top 10.
Larson is the one driver who doesn’t have to worry about playoff points. The Dover win locked him into the third round of the playoffs and was bad news for drivers in the bottom half of the playoff standings. He was one of the main drivers Bowman was racing to get to the third round thanks to the way the points standings looked after the Roval.
Larson entered Dover in eighth, 18 points back of the drivers ahead of him, a point ahead of Bowman in ninth and just six points ahead of 12th place. Now he’s atop of the points standings while everyone else enters Talladega at least a slight bit uncertain about their playoff futures.
“That was not good for us by any means,” Bowman said. “I’m really good friends with Kyle so I’m obviously happy to see him get back to victory lane but at the same time it was probably the worst situation for us possible aside from us having a bad day there. ... It makes things harder and at the same time I’m confident in our race cars. I really feel like we have a good shot at going and winning Kansas. I feel like I gave that one away in the spring. We’ve just got to go do what we’ve been doing. I feel like if you try to go do things differently or step it up or whatever you end up making mistakes.”
– – – – – – –
Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
More from Yahoo Sports: