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William Byron and Clint Bowyer in the garage.
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Analysis: Byron vs. Bowyer – different strategies, different results

There are two types of drivers in the racing world: those who play it safe and those who don’t.

Maybe safe isn’t the correct word. Strategic might be better. Smart works, too.

Regardless, William Byron falls into that category. In the last seven races, the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has moved up the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship points standings just as many spots. He was 19th after finishing 20th at Kansas Speedway in May and now sits 12th after a second-place run at Daytona International Speedway.

RELATED: Updated standings | Schedule for Kentucky

That jump is thanks to the 238 points Byron has accumulated since Kansas, a stretch which featured four top-10 performances and that one runner-up finish. He earned at least 17 points in each race, with a high of 45 at Pocono Raceway.

Then there’s Clint Bowyer. The driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has been trending in the opposite direction, with a seeming focus on wins. He currently is ranked 15th with 444 points. Seven weeks ago, however, he was ninth.

As other drivers, such as Byron, stacked up points, Bowyer has added just 125 since Kansas, despite a pair of top-five finishes. Two races – at Michigan International Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway – saw him earn a combined total of only three points. His best was 38 at Kansas.

The numbers between Byron and Bowyer are so different because Byron has put an emphasis on stage points. If a driver wins a stage, he or she gets a playoff point (not relevant in this comparison) and 10 regular-season points. Second then gets nine points, third gets eight, fourth gets seven … and so on.

Of Byron’s 238 points in the last seven races, 64 were from stage points alone. He closed out 10 of the 15 stages (Charlotte had three rather than two) in the top 10 and even won Stage 1 at Sonoma Raceway. The only race in that span where he didn’t earn any stage points was Kansas.

Bowyer, on the other hand, had five races without a single stage point. He’s four-for-15 with 16 stage points in the past seven races.

MORE: Monster Energy Series stage points

There only are eight races left in the regular season, starting with the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway this Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), and neither Byron nor Bowyer has won a race. Therefore, they are not guaranteed a spot in the NASCAR Playoffs. They currently are only safe right now due to where they rank in the standings.

Sixteen drivers make the playoff field. Daniel Suarez is right outside the bubble in 17th place. He trails Ryan Newman for the final spot by three points. That leaves Bowyer in a risky situation, above the cutoff line by just four points.

Byron, meanwhile, has a 58-point cushion.

Time is running out, and only time will tell whose game plan ultimately pays off. Go for the checkered flag, or go for the stage points. A trip to Victory Lane would make all of this irrelevant, but that’s much easier said than done.

OVERALL PERFORMANCE

William Byron . Clint Bowyer
12th Standings 15th
498 Points 444
0 Wins 0
1 Top 5s 5
6 Top 10s 8
1 DNFs 5
180 Laps led 45
1 Stage wins 0

 

LAST SEVEN RACES

                     . Stage 1 Stage 2 Finish Total Pts Stage Pts Standings
Track WB CB WB CB WB CB WB CB WB CB WB CB
Kansas 8 8 20 5 17 38 6 19 9
Charlotte 6 5/- -/- 9 24 39 13 11 15 11
Pocono 2 3 9 5 45 32 17 14 10
Michigan 8 18 35 22 2 3 14 12
Sonoma 1 3 19 11 36 26 18 14 12
Chicago 8 7 8 37 36 1 7 12 16
Daytona 7 3 5 2 34 43 13 8 10 12 15