Despite winning Sunday afternoon’s NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Christopher Bell hasn’t officially clinched a playoff spot.
The win is Bell’s first since February 2021 when he won at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Sunday’s victory ended a 53-race win drought for the driver of the #20 Toyota.
What that win didn’t do, however, was officially lock up a playoff spot for the 27-year-old Norman, Oklahoma native.
Bell is the 14th driver to win a race through the first 20 races of the 26-race regular season, and there are 16 playoff spots available no matter how many winners there are.
As a result, the “win and in” concept of the playoff format isn’t technically correct, and this season could very well prove it.
The 16 playoff spots are awarded to the regular season champion and then the 15 drivers who rank highest in wins. With 26 regular season races, there can be no more than 13 multi-race winners, so drivers who win twice are locked in. However, drivers who win once are not.
In the event that there are more than 16 different winners, the tiebreaker among the single-race winners to determine who fills the postseason field becomes points.
This is basically the same concept that is used when there aren’t more than 16 different winners. In that scenario, the tiebreaker among the non-winners to determine who fills the remaining spots in the postseason field is also points.
However, despite this technicality, one which could very well prevent a winner from qualifying for the playoffs this year, there is no doubt that Bell finds himself in a favorable position with six races left in the regular season.
Bell sits in eighth place in the point standings, which puts him ahead of six of the other eight single-race winners (five other drivers have won at least twice and are locked in).
So in the event that there are more than 16 different regular season races winners, he should be relatively safe.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe, who won at Phoenix Raceway back in March, currently sits in 18th place in the point standings, lowest among the nine single-race winners.