NASCAR: What if there are more than 16 winners?

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) /

Two drivers who had never won before opened up the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season with wins. What happens to the playoff field if there are more than 16 winners?

With 23 races remaining in the 26-race 2021 NASCAR Cup Series regular season, three different drivers have been victorious.

This is nothing new, especially considering the fact that the season opened up with what you might consider two “wild card” races, first with the Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway oval and next with the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 at the same venue’s road course. Michael McDowell won the former and Christopher Bell won the latter.

However, both of the winners had never won in Cup Series competition before. Neither one finished higher than 20th place in the championship standings last year, so the perennial contenders, if you will, haven’t even gotten started yet.

The winner of the third race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, William Byron, entered the 2021 season with just one career win to his name. That was the only win that any of this season’s first three winners had had entering the year.

So could the Cup Series see more than 16 winners in the regular season this year?

Absolutely. Even if it doesn’t actually happen, there are certainly at least 13 other drivers in the Cup Series field who are fully capable of winning at least one of the next 23 races.

The real question, while it may seem six or so months early to ask, is this: how would that affect the playoff field?

A total of 16 drivers qualify for the four-round, 10-race postseason. While the whole “win and in” concept is how the current format has been characterized over the years, that isn’t 100% accurate. There are only two ways to truly secure your playoff berth.

  1. Win the regular season points championship
  2. Win at least two regular season races

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This is the case because the playoff field is actually set by taking the regular season champion and then the 15 other drivers with the most wins, provided they rank in the top 30 in the point standings.

Obviously, you can’t have 15 two-race winners in a 26-race span.

So if there are more than 16 winners, the tiebreaker(s) go to whichever one-race winners have scored the most points throughout the regular season. If there are fewer than 16 winners, the remaining spots are determined based on points as well, as we have seen every year under this format thus far.

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How many different winners will the Cup Series see throughout the remainder of the 2021 regular season? Will tiebreakers need to be used to eliminate race winners from making the playoffs?