NASCAR: One big misconception some fans still have

Kurt Busch, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Many fans still buy the “win and in” concept of the NASCAR playoff format. While it has proven true in the past, it isn’t technically correct.

23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch became the 11th different winner of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season in the AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway four Sundays ago.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin followed it up by earning his second win of the season last Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Coca-Cola 600, and Team Penske’s Joey Logano went on to earn his second win of the season this past Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in the inaugural Enjoy Illinois 300 .

Through 15 races, just four drivers have won multiple races this year: Hamlin, Logano, Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron, and Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain.

Aside from Kurt Busch, the other winners include Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, and Chase Elliott, Team Penske rookie Austin Cindric, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch, and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe.

While the current NASCAR playoff format is widely considered a “win and in” format, this concept isn’t completely accurate.

Since this format was introduced, that is how it has played out. But it is technically a misconception that it is truly a “win and in” format.

There are 16 playoff spots available no matter how many different winners emerge in the 26-race regular season. Those spots go to the regular season champion, winner or not, and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins.

Should the regular season produce more than 16 different winners, the only drivers truly “locked in” would be the drivers with two or more wins, since a two-race winner cannot fall outside of the top 15 in the regular season wins category.

As for the single-race winners, the tiebreaker to determine who lands in the remaining open spots, however many there still are behind the multi-race winners, becomes points.

So let’s say there are 19 winners in the regular season, including one who won three races, five who won two races and 13 who won one.

The one three-race winner would be locked in, as would the five two-race winners. However, only 10 of the 13 single-race winners would qualify for the postseason, and the point standings would be what determine which 10 of these 13 drivers lock into spots seven through 16.

If you want to make it even more complicated, you could say that the driver who won the regular season championship failed to win a race.

In that case, this driver would still qualify for the playoffs. However, only nine, not 10, of the single-race winners would do so, occupying spots eight through 16.

At the end of the day, these scenarios are not scenarios that have ever unfolded since the current playoff format was introduced in 2014, but they are certainly possible in 2022 after the first half of the regular season produced 11 different winners.

There are 11 races remaining in the regular season. Will five or more different winners emerge?

Next. NASCAR driver earns key requirement. dark

Notably, five non-winners have finished a race in second place this year, and seven full-time drivers who won last year have not yet done so in 2022. So there could absolutely be more than 16 different winners by the time the regular season is scheduled to come to an end at Daytona International Speedway in late August.