NASCAR: One playoff spot clinched at Charlotte

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

Denny Hamlin had already won a race in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, but it was his Coca-Cola 600 win that secured him a playoff spot.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin led seven of the first nine laps of Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway after starting from the pole position behind the wheel of his #11 Toyota.

About five hours later, Hamlin found himself back in the lead of the race at the four-turn, 1.5-mile (2.414-kilometer) oval in Concord, North Carolina following a multi-car wreck ahead of the second overtime restart.

Following a duel with teammate Kyle Busch over the final two laps, Hamlin hung on to secure another crown jewel win, his first in the Coca-Cola 600. With two overtime restarts, the 400-lap race was extended to 413 laps. At 619.5 miles, it was the longest race in Cup Series history.

The win was Hamlin’s second of the 2022 season, and it officially secured him a playoff berth.

Hamlin earned his first win of the season at Richmond Raceway back in early April. But while the playoff format is generally considered a “win and in” format, this win didn’t lock him into the playoffs.

Through 13 races, Hamlin was one of 11 different winners. With 13 races remaining in the 26-race regular season, that left open the possibility of more than 16 different winners emerging before the start of the postseason.

The 16 playoff spots go to the regular season champion and then the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins. If there aren’t enough winners, the remaining open spots go to the non-winners who rank highest in points.

If there are more than 16 winners, the tiebreaker among the single-race winners to determine who lands in the remaining open spots is points.

Of the 11 winners, two had won twice, and nine had won once. Of those nine single-race winners, Hamlin ranked lowest in the point standings in 20th place, making him the driver most at-risk in the event of more than 16 winners.

But now Hamlin doesn’t have to worry about that possibility.

With two wins, Hamlin cannot possibly drop outside of the top 15 in the regular season wins category; at most, only 13 drivers can win two races in the regular season.

So even though he still only ranks 17th in the point standings, Hamlin is one of three drivers locked into the playoffs.

Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron and Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain are the other two. Byron won at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway, and Chastain won at Circuit of the Americas and Talladega Superspeedway.

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Will a 12th different winner emerge in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season’s 15th race, the Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter? This race, the inaugural Cup Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, is set to be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET this Sunday, June 5. Begin your free trial of FuboTV now!