Despite common belief, Kurt Busch is not locked into the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with his victory in Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.
23XI Racing, which entered the Cup Series with Bubba Wallace as the driver of their #23 Toyota last year, expanded to two cars for 2022, and they signed Busch to drive the #45 Toyota after it was announced that Chip Ganassi Racing, Busch’s team at the time, would be acquired by Trackhouse Racing Team following the 2021 season.
And in only his 13th start with the team, the 2004 series champion earned his 34th career victory.
The win made the 2022 season Busch’s ninth straight winning season. But what it didn’t exactly do was make it his 10th straight season with a playoff berth.
While the Cup Series playoff format is widely viewed as a “win and in” format, questions surrounding that concept have arisen in 2022.
Mathematically, with 26 regular season races and just 16 playoff spots, the format cannot be considered a “win and in” format, since there can be more than 16 different regular season race winners.
While the “win and in” concept has proven true in all past seasons of the current format, that may very well not be the case this year, as the first 13 races have produced 11 different winners.
The 16 playoff spots go to the regular season points champion, plus the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins. So at this point in the year, the only two drivers who have clinched playoff berths are Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron and Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain, who have won twice and therefore cannot drop out of the top 13 in the regular season wins category.
Single-race winners, however, have yet to clinch, and that group, which now includes nine drivers, includes Busch.
Should there be more than 16 regular season race winners, the tiebreaker among the single-race winners to determine who gets the final playoff spots is point total.
Busch sits in 18th place in the point standings, putting him ahead of just one of the other single-race winners. He sits 16 points ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin in 20th.
So in the event that there are more than 16 different regular season race winners, Busch will need to make sure that his position in the standings is good enough to ensure that he doesn’t end up outside of the top 16 in the playoff picture, a scenario which would make the 2022 season his first since 2012 without a postseason appearance.