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NASCAR America: Alex Bowman throws down the gauntlet to his playoff rivals

Alex Bowman has a career high 3rd place finish at Pocono, but what can he do to secure a position in the top 5 of his next race?

Three drivers scored career-best finishes last weekend at Pocono Raceway. For one of them, it came at the right time as Alex Bowman’s third-place finish allowed him to increase his advantage in the points from 28 above the cutline for the playoffs to 56.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard are tied in points as they vie to be the first driver outside playoff contention.

That 56-point advantage is four shy of a complete race advantage over the competition with five regular-season races remaining on the schedule. According to NASCAR America’s Dale Jarrett, it is time to start playing defense.

“The biggest thing is, don’t make mistakes,” Jarrett said. “This is points racing; that’s all they can do at this point in time. If the opportunity presents itself, then you go after a win, but don’t put yourself in any bad spots.”

MORE: Alex Bowman leads Hendrick cars with career-best finish at Pocono

But first, they had to play offense.

After allowing Stenhouse to close to within nine points after Kentucky, Bowman mounted a charge with an 11th-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and his third at Pocono.

“(The team) did everything they needed to do, and in so many ways the other two, being Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard, did absolutely what you shouldn’t do, which is they just didn’t have the performance (at Pocono),” Parker Kligerman said. “They didn’t put pressure on the 88.

“The biggest thing with this whole deal is: for a couple of weeks there we watched Paul Menard ... chomp into that lead very quickly with some really fast Fords and some great performances, and this was kind of slamming the gauntlet back down saying, ‘No. We’re going to make the playoffs in the 88 team.’ “

Daniel Suarez in second and William Byron in sixth were the other two drivers who scored career-best results.

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter.