Corey LaJoie nearly earned his first NASCAR Cup Series victory on Sunday. But if he would have, would the win even have counted toward playoff eligibility?
The NASCAR Cup Series nearly saw its biggest upset since Spire Motorsports’ first victory in 2019 years ago on Sunday afternoon, when Spire Motorsports’ Corey LaJoie was battling for the win at Atlanta Motor Speedway on the final lap after leading more laps than he has ever led in a full season on a single afternoon.
Unfortunately, it didn’t go his way, and after trying to make a move around race leader Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports, LaJoie’s #7 Chevrolet ended up in the wall, and he was credited with a 21st place finish in the Quaker State 400.
LaJoie was seen as somewhat of a dark horse entering the 260-lap race around the four-turn, 1.54-mile (2.478-kilometer) high-banked oval in Hampton, Georgia, given not only the “equalizer” aspect of superspeedway races but the fact that he had finished in a career-high fifth place at the track back in March.
He nearly made it happen. But had he won, would his win even have counted toward playoff eligibility?
LaJoie is a full-time driver who hasn’t missed a race this season. But even if he would have won — and even in the event that the regular season does not produce more than 16 different winners — LaJoie likely would not have qualified for the playoffs.
Most fans know by now that, in the event that there are more than 16 winners in the regular season, the final spots (among the single-race winners) are awarded based on points, in which case LaJoie likely would not have qualified because of his rank in the point standings; he is currently 13 spots lower than the lowest single-race winner.
But even if LaJoie was one of, let’s say, 14 different winners (which he would’ve been with a win on Sunday), and no more new winners emerged before the regular season ended, he probably wouldn’t be competing for a championship.
The reason for this is the fact that wins only count toward playoff eligibility if the winner ranks inside the top 30 in the point standings.
LaJoie sits in 31st place with 222 points, and he is 44 points outside the top 30.
He scored 17 points in Sunday’s race, one stage point and 16 points from his 21st place result. Had he won the race, he would have scored 41 points, with 40 coming from a victory.
RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski sits in 30th place in the point standings. He scored 27 points (eight stage points and 19 points from his 18th place finish) and would have scored 26 (18 from a 19th place finish) had LaJoie won.
So Keselowski would still be sitting in 30th place in the point standings with 265 points, ahead of LaJoie with 246.
What’s interesting to note here is the fact that Keselowski has actually scored 365 points this season, giving him an average of 19.2 points per race compared to LaJoie’s 12.9. He lost 100 points via a post-race penalty following the March race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The 30th place driver in terms of raw points is Front Row Motorsports rookie Todd Gilliland. Gilliland sits in 29th in the standings with 284 points, including 20 from his 17th place finish on Sunday afternoon. Had LaJoie won, Gilliland would have scored 19 points with an 18th place and have 283 points.
That would still put him 37 points higher than LaJoie, and it’s good for an average of 14.9 points per race.
So LaJoie’s win effectively would not have counted in terms of the playoff picture — at the moment.
Of course, it would still “count” as being his first career Cup Series win, and that would have produced quite a special moment.
And he could still climb into the top 30 in the point standings over the course of the regular season’s final seven races.
But considering the fact that he has not finished higher than 14th place outside of Atlanta Motor Speedway this year, coupled with the fact that the drivers just ahead of him in the standings have consistently scored more points than he has, that would be a very, very tall task.
It certainly would have been a first, however: a driver winning a regular season, but missing the playoffs solely because he doesn’t rank in the top 30 in points.
But the point is moot anyway, as it was Elliott who found victory lane in his home race, and LaJoie unfortunately had to settle for a 21st place finish.
At this point, in order to qualify for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, Corey LaJoie needs to win one of the regular season’s final seven races, and he needs to make up quite a bit of ground in points as well. Oh, and he needs to hope that there aren’t more than 16 total regular season race winners.