NASCAR Cup Series: 8 drivers who could still be ‘at risk’

Joey Logano, Team Penske, Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, Team Penske, Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Winning a race, especially with all the parity in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, doesn’t necessarily mean a ticket to the playoffs.

The NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway three Sundays ago produced the 11th different winners in the 2022 season’s first 13 races.

23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch became that 11th winner, passing Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson late in the AdventHealth 400 to earn his 34th career victory and make the 2022 season his ninth consecutive winning season.

What Busch’s win didn’t necessarily do was lock up a playoff berth, however. While the “win and in” concept of the playoff format has always proven true in the past, it isn’t guaranteed to do so in 2022.

There are 16 playoff spots available regardless of how many winners there are, with those spots going to the regular season points champion as well as the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins.

Since then, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin has won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, doing so this past Sunday. Because he already won at Richmond Raceway back in early April, there have still been 11 winners through 14 races this year.

But with 12 races remaining in the 26-race regular season, don’t rule out more than five more new drivers finding victory lane in 2022.

In the event that there are more than 16 different regular season race winners, only the multi-race winners would be locked in. The remaining spots, however many there are, would go to the single-race winners who rank highest in the point standings.

Non-winners would be fully excluded from the postseason, except if one happens to win the regular season title.

Aside from Hamlin, the only repeat winners so far in 2022 are Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron and Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain.

Eight drivers have just one win and therefore have not yet locked up playoff berths, despite the popular “win and in” concept of the postseason format.

Those drivers include Team Penske rookie Austin Cindric (Daytona), Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson (Fontana), Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman (Las Vegas), Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe (Phoenix), Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch (Bristol dirt), Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott (Dover), Team Penske’s Joey Logano (Darlington), and 23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch (Kansas).

Here is how the eight single-race winners currently stack up in the point standings.

  • 1st – Chase Elliott – 489 (0)
  • 3rd – Kyle Busch – 452 (-37)
  • 6th – Joey Logano – 423 (-66)
  • 8th – Alex Bowman – 415 (-74)
  • 9th – Kyle Larson – 412 (-77)
  • 13th – Chase Briscoe – 349 (-140)
  • 19th – Austin Cindric – 294 (-195)
  • 20th – Kurt Busch – 289 (-200)

It’s highly unlike that these drivers will end up dropping out of the playoff picture, especially those who are comfortably inside the top 16 in points (effectively Elliott through Larson).

And naturally, the 21 full-time drivers who have yet to win this year are far more “at risk” than these eight. In fact, the playoff cut line is already up between the 12th place and 14th place drivers in points, which is bizarre for this early in the year.

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However, the fact is that none of the eight single-race winners have officially secured playoff berths quite yet, and there is still work left to do in order for them to do so.