NASCAR Playoff Schedule
The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series regular season finished off in emphatic fashion after a thrilling race at Daytona. Now, the much-awaited playoffs begin for this year's campaign with 16 drivers challenging for the title. While the competition only gets intense, it only gets tricky with the venues involved for the remaining 10 races.
Kickstarting with the Round of 16, the first race takes place on 3rd September with the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. It is then followed by the race at Hollywood Casino 4000 at Kansas Speedway on 10th September. After that, the round of 16 ends with the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on 16th September.
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Once that's done, then begins the round of 12. It starts with the Autotrader Echopark Automotive 400 race at Texas Motor Speedway on 24th September. Following that, the Cup Series moves to the Yellawood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on 1st October. Finally, the round ends with the Bank of America Roval 400 race on 8th October at Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
After the six races begin the Round of 8, first with the South Point 400 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on 15th October. The second race of the round will be carried out on 22nd October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Once that's done, the penultimate race of the 2023 season will be the Xfinity 500 race at Martinsville Speedway on 29th October.
Eventually, the final race of the campaign will be at Phoenix Raceway, bringing curtains to this year's action on 5th November. While these 10 races will be conducted on different tracks, the format of the playoffs makes it an exciting affair.
|Round of 16||Round of 12||Round of 8||Championship race|
|Sun., Sept. 3 - Southern 500 - Darlington Raceway||Sun., Sept. 24 - Texas Motor Speedway||Sun., Oct. 15 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway||Sun., Nov. 5 - Phoenix Raceway|
|Sun., Sept. 10 - Kansas Speedway||Sun., Oct. 1 - Talladega Superspeedway||Sun., Oct. 22 - Homestead-Miami Speedway|
|Sat., Sept. 16 - Bristol Motor Speedway||Sun., Oct. 8 - Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval||Sun., Oct. 29 - Martinsville Speedway|
NASCAR Cup Series playoff format
The current playoff format isn't as difficult as it looks to understand. The Cup Series playoff uses an elimination-style format possessing four rounds in total. It starts with the Round of 16 where all the 16 drivers in the playoff compete in three races.
However, at the end of those three races, the four drivers below the cut-off line get eliminated. Then begins the Round of 12 which also contains competing in three races. Again, the four drivers below the cut-off line get eliminated, leaving 8 of them.
With the same logic and rules applied in the Round of 8, it all comes down to the last four remaining drivers. It goes down to the wire at Phoenix Raceway with the Championship 4 race where the best four drivers in the competition battle for the title in Arizona. Interestingly, the points system involved makes the competition more wild with time.
NASCAR Cup Series points system
The regular season gave a glimpse of how the desperation of winning points could prompt drivers to their limits. Despite his best efforts, Chase Elliott failed to make it to the playoffs this season, the first time ever he did that in his career. While points weren't enough to help his cause, the same could not be said for the final 16 drivers in the playoffs.
Without a doubt, every driver would be fighting to finish as high as possible in every race. The 10 races would see 36 to 40 drivers competing depending on the event or the track. The race winner would get 40 points, the second-place finisher would get 35 points, the third-place finisher would get 34 points, and so on. Notably, drivers who finish between the 36th and 40th position would get a single point.
To be good is one thing.
To be great is another.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) August 30, 2023
Another mode of earning points would be through stage wins. 10 points would be awarded for winning each stage. Since the race is divided into three stages, 10 points each will be awarded for Stage 1 and Stage 2 wins. Not only that, while these 10 points are for the winner, the second place gets nine, the third place gets eight, and so on until the 10th place gets a single point.
For example, if a driver wins one of the first two stages and fails to finish the race, he would still end the race with 10 points. At the same time, if a driver wins both the first two stages and the race, he could go on to win 60 points in total. What this does is give every racer an incentive to strongly compete in every phase of the playoff race.
It is worth mentioning that drivers who have accumulated playoff points in the regular season will be carried forward in the playoffs. This would give them a small advantage and a slight leeway in case things go wrong in a race. Having said that, surviving in the playoffs is as difficult as qualifying for it.
What makes a driver qualify for the NASCAR playoffs?
It is no secret that qualifying for the NASCAR playoffs is no less than an achievement. Despite his best efforts, it took Bubba Wallace six years to get into the playoff for the first time. In fact, the introduction of Next-Gen cars has only made it more tricky.
Mathematically, a win in the regular season doesn't assure a place in the playoffs. However, more often than not a victory has almost secured a place in the playoffs. Since the current playoff format was introduced in 2014, the Cup Series hasn't witnessed more than 16 different winners in a regular season.
So practically, a win does help in making it to the playoffs. In the event there is more than one driver without a win competing for the spot, the drivers with the most overall points make the cut. In fact, it is with this logic that Wallace and two other drivers made it to the playoffs in 2023.
Who are the NASCAR drivers in the playoffs?
During the course of 26 races in the regular season, there have been some remarkable performances, to say the least. While a few of them were unexpected, it has certainly brought a different flavor to NASCAR's top-tier racing. Both William Byron and Martin Truex Jr have raced incredibly well to cement their place at the top.
While the Joe Gibbs Racing driver won the regular season championship, Byron would hope to go all the way in the playoffs. Another Hendrick Motorsports star who has done well this season is Kyle Larson. While he won two races in the regular season, he could have easily won more had it not been for some unfortunate events.
In his final season, @KevinHarvick will be racing for his second championship. 🏆
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) August 20, 2023
It must not have been easy for Rick Hendrick given how they only have two drivers in the playoffs this campaign. However, that's not the case with Joe Gibbs as along with Truex Jr, Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell have also made it to the final 16. While Hamlin's contract situation at JGR remains uncertain, it is a massive opportunity for him to win his first-ever championship.
Speaking of JGR and contracts, Richard Childress Racing driver Kyle Busch also made it to the playoffs with three wins this season. One of the biggest surprises of the final 16 would be Chris Buescher. His late surge in the regular season saw him register three wins in the last five weeks.
The playoffs will also see Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Michael McDowell, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr, who all made it through a single win in the first 26 races of the season. However, the ones to make it without a win are Bubba Wallace, the retiring Kevin Harvick, and Brad Keselowski. It is certainly interesting to see if there's a new winner this time around.
What playoff drivers have won the NASCAR Cup Series championship before?
Winning the NASCAR Cup Series hasn't been an easy task. Despite his terrific experience and skills, Denny Hamlin has struggled to win it once in 19 years. Having said that, he has had drivers alongside him who have won it before. In fact, even the current bunch of drivers in the playoff know what it is like to be a title winner.
Out of the 16 drivers, 6 of them have already won it previously. This year's regular season champion, Martin Truex Jr has already won the Cup Series back in 2017. With his incredible form this campaign, he is undoubtedly one of the front-runners to repeat the feat.
Along with Truex Jr lies Kyle Busch who has also known the amazing feeling of being a Cup Series champion. Having won it twice, the RCR driver would be inching to win it with his new team. Other former championship winners include Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, and Kevin Harvick. While all of these drivers have the potential to double their tally, it would take a wild effort for them to go all the way this season.
NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings
Clearly, winning the championship will be the agenda for all the final 16 drivers involved. While it is easier said than done, there is no discounting anyone involved. Currently, William Byron and Martin Truex Jr lead the charts with 36 playoff points to their name each.
They are followed by Denny Hamlin and Chris Buescher who have 25 and 21 playoff points respectively. All the next four names are some of the brightest names in the sport. Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, and Ross Chastain take up the next four spots with 19, 17, 14, and 11 playoff points respectively.
Appreciate all the kind notes this week from fans, media, friends, partners and my teammates.
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) August 28, 2023
While the list only gets more spicy, the outcome only gets more unpredictable race after race. Brad Keselowski and Tyler Reddick have 10 and nine playoff points to their name so far. With eight points to their name, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney occupy the two spots just above the cutoff line going into the Round of 16.
The final four before the race at Darlington sees Michael McDowell in the 13th place with seven playoff points. Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Kevin Harvick have five and four points to their name respectively. Last but not least, Bubba Wallace has failed to win a playoff point in the regular season. It is interesting to see how he does in his playoff debut, especially how he deals with the non-playoff drivers.
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|Driver||Regular Season Points (Playoff points)|
|#24 William Byron|
|#19 Martin Truex Jr|
|#45 Tyler Reddick||2060 (9)|
|#11 Denny Hamlin||2057 (27)|
|#17 Chris Buescher||2057 (21)|
|#19 Martin Truex Jr||2055 (36)|
|#8 Kyle Busch||2050 (19)|
|#6 Brad Keselowski||2048 (10)|
|#12 Ryan Blaney||2046 (8)|
|#1 Ross Chastain||2043 (11)|
|#22 Joey Logano||2033 (8)|
|#20 Christopher Bell||2031 (14)|
|#23 Bubba Wallace||2030 (0)|
|#4 Kevin Harvick||2029 (4)|
|#47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr||2027 (5)|
|#34 Michael McDowell||2012 (7)|
Do non-playoff drivers also compete in Playoffs?
Unlike other sports, NASCAR interprets elimination differently. Despite not making it to the final 16, the non-playoff drivers remain part of the balance 10 races in the 2023 season. Most notably, they would hope to win and help their team gather more points.
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With not much at stake, many opt to try out different tactics and setups during these races. The best a non-playoff driver can finish at the end of the season would be with a 17th-placed finish. Other than that, some of the drivers also tend to use this opportunity to help their playoff-qualified drivers in their bid to win the title.
Having said that, it is worth noting that NASCAR tends to take strict actions on any mala fide act or intent on track indicating in this direction. Some even do it with revenge in their mind due to past duels earlier in the campaign. So, there's plenty for even the non-playoff drivers to make the final 16 an entertaining affair.