NASCAR: Kurt Busch’s playoff spot in jeopardy?

Kurt Busch finds himself in a precarious position in the NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings, despite having won at Kansas Speedway back in May.

23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch hasn’t competed in any of the last three NASCAR Cup Series races at Pocono Raceway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, or Michigan International Speedway, as a wreck in qualifying for the race at Pocono Raceway left him with concussion-like symptoms.

Ty Gibbs, who competes full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity Series team, has filled in for the 2004 Cup Series champion behind the wheel of the #45 Toyota, and he has done a commendable job, considering the fact that he had never previously sat behind the wheel of a Gen 7 car. He finished those three races in 16th, 17th, and 10th place, respectively.

NASCAR granted Busch a playoff waiver, meaning that his missed starts don’t count against his playoff eligibility. But what this waiver doesn’t do is lock him into the playoffs.

And these three missed starts could very well cost him.

Busch did win the race at Kansas Speedway back in mid-May, but there have been 15 winners through the season’s first 23 races. With three races remaining in the regular season, it is possible that there could be more than 16 by the time the playoffs begin.

There are 16 playoff spots regardless of how many winners there are, so in the event that there are 17 or 18 winners, there would be one or two winners left on the outside looking in.

The 16 playoff spots are awarded to the regular season champion and the 15 drivers who rank highest in wins. Because there can be no more than 13 multi-race winners (there can be no more than nine in this year’s regular season, since there have been six so far), all drivers with more than one win are locked in.

However, the single-race winners need to rely on their point totals to lock themselves into the playoffs. And right now, Busch is in the worst position of the nine single-race winners.

Busch sits in 20th place in the point standings following his third missed start of the year. The next lowest single-race winner is Team Penske rookie Austin Cindric in 16th. Cindric is 46 points ahead of Busch.

Perhaps even more notable is the fact that five drivers above Busch in the point standings have yet to win in 2022, so if any of them win, Busch would likely maintain his spot as the lowest placed single-race winner.

If he ends up lowest in a scenario where there are 17 different winners (or one of the two lowest in a scenario where there are 18), he will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Busch is still aiming to return for this coming Sunday afternoon’s race at Richmond Raceway, though his health remains the number one priority, and rightfully so.