Daytona may be for dreamers. But the Cup Series playoffs bring with it the brisk wind of reality.
It’s been a long and winding road through the regular season. But now comes the crescendo, the moment when drivers become legends. The postseason has etched many a racer into the annals of stock car history, all the while captivating legions of supporters in the process.
This year’s playoff should be no exception. It’s a truly open field, with a number of drivers positioned to compete for the ultimate crown. From postseason newbies like Chris Buescher and Bubba Wallace to wily veterans like Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, there’s a little bit of something for everybody in this year’s field. And that should only help build the intrigue.
MORE: Bubba Wallace clinches final spot in Cup Series playoffs in wreck-filled Coke Zero Sugar 400
But just how does the postseason work in NASCAR? The Sporting News details the finer points of the Cup Series’ playoff format.
How do the Cup Series playoffs work?
16 drivers will vie for a Cup Series title this postseason, hoping to use equal parts brain and (vehicular) brawn to carve their way to glory.
But just how does this pearl of a sport’s playoffs work, exactly? Well, it’s more convoluted than you might think.
Here’s what you need to know:
Cup Series points system
Bragging rights are nice, but the Cup Series retains a more quantifiable tool to examine racing excellence: the point system.
The metric goes as follows: drivers are awarded points for their showing in each stage of a race. For example, if a driver wins a stage, they are granted 10 points, if a driver finishes second in a stage they claim nine points and so on and so forth.
Those points are tacked onto the points corresponding with the position a racer finishes come the end of the race. Because up to 40 drivers can participate in any one race, there are 40 points at play for every race. The winner takes all 40, the second-place finisher takes 35, the third-place finisher nabs 34 and as the list descends each driver nets one fewer point than their predecessor. Drivers who finish between 36th and 40th receive just one point for their efforts.
Those totals are recorded over the course of the year, with the 16 drivers that accrued the most points during the regular season advancing to the playoffs.
Now, there are some limitations to all the fun. Drivers who win a regular season race immediately are granted access into the postseason, no matter if they have the point totals to place themselves in the top-16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael McDowell have fewer points than Bubba Wallace, for instance. However, because they have won regular season races, they are heading to the postseason, while Wallace is still seeking confirmation of his journey to the promised land of the playoffs.
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Cup Series playoff format
So, you’ve reached the end of the regular season. Now what? Well, NASCAR employs a playoff system that sees four rounds take place. The rounds are aptly called the Round of 16, Round of 12, Round of 8 and Championship 4.
Each round sees four drivers drift away like jaundiced leaves on a brisk autumn day. The field gets smaller and smaller until four drivers are left, each competing for the Cup Series Championship in Phoenix.
Playoff points are awarded to each driver depending on their finishes and stage performances, much like during the regular season. Additionally, non-playoff drivers can put a wrench in postseason plans. Any playoff driver that wins a race during the postseason earns automatic qualification into the next round. Non-playoff drivers, meanwhile, can snag points away from their playoff counterparts, muddying the water that much more.
Playoff drivers see their point totals reset at the start of each round. So, the 16 playoff drivers will receive a total of 2,000 playoff points to start the Round of 16, plus any additional playoff points gained through stage and race wins.
As the playoff field dwindles, each driver who qualifies for the next round sees their point totals bumped up. So, drivers who make it to the Round of 12 see their point total reset to 3,000 and drivers who advance to the Round of 8 see their point total increase to 4,000.
Those who receive the golden ticket to the Championship 4 do not receive a points reset. Rather, they are awarded the championship based solely on finishing position come the end of the Cup Series title race, held at Phoenix in November. Whichever Championship 4 driver that finishes first will receive the Cup Series crown.
Cup Series playoff standings 2023
Below is a look at the top 16 drivers in the Cup Series playoff standings, based on regular-season points.
|1||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||2036|
|2||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||2035|
|3||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||2019|
|4||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||2019|
|5||Kyle Busch||Richard Childress Racing||2017|
|6||Chris Buescher||Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing||2015|
|7||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||2014|
|8||Ross Chastain||Trackhouse Racing||2013|
|9||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||2010|
|10||Tyler Reddick||23XI Racing||2009|
|11||Brad Keselowski||Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing||2008|
|12||Joey Logano||Team Penske||2008|
|13||Michael McDowell||Live Fast Motorsports||2007|
|14||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG-Daugherty Racing||2005|
|15||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||2002|
|16||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||2000|
NASCAR schedule 2023: Playoff races
(All times Eastern)
|Sept. 3||Southern 500||Darlington Raceway||6 p.m.||USA||MRN|
|Sept. 10||Hollywood Casino 400||Kansas Speedway||3 p.m.||USA||MRN|
|Sept. 16||Bass Pro Shops Night Race||Bristol Motor Speedway||7:30 p.m.||USA||PRN|
|Sept. 24||AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400||Texas Motor Speedway||3:30 p.m.||USA||PRN|
|Oct. 1||YellaWood 500||Talladega Superspeedway||2 p.m.||NBC||MRN|
|Oct. 8||Bank of America Roval 400||Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval||2 p.m.||NBC||PRN|
|Oct. 15||South Point 400||Las Vegas Motor Speedway||2:30 p.m.||NBC||PRN|
|Oct. 22||NASCAR Cup Series Race at Homestead-Miami||Homestead-Miami Speedway||2:30 p.m.||NBC||MRN|
|Oct. 30||Xfinity 500||Martinsville Speedway||2 p.m.||NBC||MRN|
|Nov. 6||NASCAR Cup Series Championship||Phoenix Raceway||3 p.m.||NBC||MRN|
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