Playoff watch: Alex Bowman separates from Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Alex Bowman walks on pit road before qualifying for a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Friday, July 6, 2018, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

There are now just six races to go before the 2018 Cup Series playoffs begin. It’s time to start paying attention to the playoff field, especially those at the back of the pack.

Here’s what the tentative playoff field currently looks like

1. Kyle Busch (5 wins)
2. Kevin Harvick (6 wins)
3. Martin Truex Jr. (4 wins)
4. Clint Bowyer (2 wins)
5. Joey Logano (1 win)
6. Erik Jones (1 win)
7. Austin Dillon (1 win)
8. Kurt Busch
9. Brad Keselowski
10. Kyle Larson
11. Ryan Blaney
12. Denny Hamlin
13. Aric Almirola
14. Jimmie Johnson
15. Chase Elliott
16. Alex Bowman

[Kevin Harvick wins at New Hampshire]

Elliott’s a ways ahead of Bowman, meaning there’s really only one playoff spot up for grabs via points at the moment. Here’s how much of a lead Bowman has on the drivers who are within a race’s worth of points.

Alex Bowman, 453 points
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 425
Paul Menard, 424

Bowman finishes 11th

Bowman gapped Stenhouse on Sunday thanks to a finish just outside of the top 10 and some trouble for Stenhouse. Bowman finished 11th while Stenhouse clobbered the wall and finished 30th.

[Takeaways from New Hampshire]

Bowman said his team struggled all weekend and that his car was incredibly tight, meaning the front lacked grip.

“I hate that we unloaded with so much speed and just kind of I guess didn’t go the right way or the track changed on us, but really proud of [crew chief Greg Ives and everybody for getting the car better there at the end,” Bowman said. “Had a good restart there and almost got a top 10. It could have been a lot worse.”

Stenhouse and his team made a track position play in the first stage and it almost got them some stage points as Stenhouse was passed for 10th on the final lap of the stage by Aric Almirola. The race went poorly from there as Stenhouse hit the wall during green-flag pit stops in the final stage. He ended up scoring seven points while Bowman scored 26.

Menard makes gains

Paul Menard is now within a point of Stenhouse for the first position outside the playoffs. Menard finished 17th after starting 12th on Sunday and is now 29 points behind Bowman.

While Menard has been making gains on Stenhouse recently he’s been losing points to Bowman. Menard was just four points behind Bowman five races ago.

Ryan Newman finished sixth on Sunday and is 74 points behind Bowman. He won’t be considered on the bubble until he can cut another 20 points or so off that deficit.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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