NASCAR: Austin Dillon is the Cup Series points leader

Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

After his third place finish in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500, Austin Dillon leads the championship standings.

This article is more geared toward newer NASCAR fans who don’t quite understand the points format/stage racing. But since stage racing is still fairly new and can still at times be confusing, it may be worth a refresher for some of the older fans as well.

In IndyCar or Formula 1, if you win the season opener, you score the most points, and you’re obviously leading the championship standings. For lack of a better word, that’s implied.

But that is not necessarily the case in NASCAR.

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In 2018, after Austin Dillon opened up the season with a Daytona 500 win, he sat in a third place tie in the championship standings, as Ryan Blaney was the points leader following a seventh place finish due to the stage points and Duels points he had accrued.

Now skip ahead three years. Dillon didn’t win the 2021 Daytona 500, yet he opens up the 2021 season as the points leader. Daytona 500 champion Michael McDowell sits down in a fifth place tie in the championship standings.

How is this possible?

The top 10 finishers in each of the two Daytona 500 Bluegreen Vacations Duels qualifying races are awarded points, from 10 points down to one. The same is the case for the first two stages of the Daytona 500 itself — and for any Cup Series race.

Dillon won his Duel race to score 10 points, and he finished the first two stages of the Daytona 500 in third and fifth place, respectively, to score 14 (8+6) more points. He ultimately finished the race in third to score 34 more.

McDowell, meanwhile, scored two points in his Duel race with a ninth place finish and scored only four stage points as a result of a seventh place finish in stage two. His win netted him 40 points.

Without any stage points, he’d be sitting in ninth place in the standings.

Here are the top five in the standings after the season opener.

  1. Austin Dillon – 58
  2. Denny Hamlin – 52
  3. Kevin Harvick – 50
  4. Chase Elliott – 48
  5. Michael McDowell/Ryan Preece – 46

Fortunately for McDowell, he shouldn’t have much to worry about as far as the regular season standings are concerned since his win netted him a playoff berth and five playoff points.

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Stage points are in play for all races throughout the 36-race season, although the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway has four stages (so three stages with top 10 points awarded). But unlike the Daytona 500, no other races throughout the season award points for qualifying.