Bowyer enters Sunday’s Brickyard 400 – the final race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season – just eight points inside the cutoff line to make the 16-driver playoff field.

While a win would lock Bowyer into the playoff grid, he – and the drivers he’s racing against to break into the field – have all yet to earn a victory this season, which means all will likely be fighting for every point to claim the final spots. 

Bowyer’s playoff chance

Sunday’s race will also feature the debut of the 2019 Cup Series aero package at Indy, similar to what the Xfinity Series cars have used with success the last two seasons.

“It’s all lining up to be a really big weekend, between racing at a place like Indianapolis and for as high of stakes as we are racing for,” Bowyer said. “It’s pretty clear cut what we have to do if we want to get into the playoffs. 

“We are confident. We ran well at Indy last year and we’ll need to do it again. This is what the playoff format was designed to do. 

“I mean, I wish we were more secure, but it’s going to be a hell of a show with a bunch of us racing hard to get in.”

Bowyer led 37 of 160 laps in last year’s Brickyard 400, won the second stage, and ended up fifth after a three-lap shootout to close out the race. 

Another run like that should leave him in the playoffs and he’s coming off a solid sixth-place finish last weekend at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

It’s not just about making it

Making the playoffs is the top priority for Bowyer and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team but Bowyer will not be satisfied with just getting there.

“We put ourselves back in position but, kid you not, yes, I want to make the playoffs, but I want to make the playoffs to get past the first round and to hit that thing in stride and race to our capabilities,” he said.

“Darlington showed our capability. If we can do that again is what I’m looking for because, again, you always have to be looking down the road. 

“To be honest with you, my eye is on making those playoffs and getting through that first round. It’s kind of like racing on this race track, you’re racing that guy in front of you, but you’ve always got your eye on the guy in front of him, as well.”

Historic ground

In addition to a win locking himself into the playoff field – and the momentum entering the playoffs that would come with it – a win at the Brickyard would still be special all on its own to Bowyer.

“The history and tradition behind it is very special. It’s a huge opportunity, and a privilege, to be able to race on it,” he said. “It’s the history behind it. It’s a hard race. It’s a hard place to get around, as a driver. 

“But it all comes down to the history, the people who have won that race and won at that race track before you. That’s why you want to win there so badly.”