NASCAR: Why Kyle Busch isn’t locked into the playoffs

Kyle Busch, Richard Childress Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, Richard Childress Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

It took Kyle Busch just two tries with Richard Childress Racing to win a NASCAR Cup Series race, but he isn’t officially locked into the playoffs yet.

After leaving Joe Gibbs Racing following a 15-year run which saw him win two NASCAR Cup Series championships and 56 races, Kyle Busch was faced with a number of questions heading into the 2023 season, his first with Richard Childress Racing as the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet.

Several of those questions have already been answered.

Many believed that Busch’s move from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing, a team that won just four races from 2014 to 2021, was a backwards move that would ultimately bring about an early and bitter end to his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Others saw it as a wise decision. Busch’s final few years with Joe Gibbs Racing were relatively forgettable, and Richard Childress Racing were a team that managed to win four races in the first year of the Next Gen era, making them one of the organizations that gained the most from the switch to the Gen 7 machine.

So far, Kyle Busch has proven those NASCAR fans in the latter group correct.

After contending in both the Busch Light Clash preseason exhibition race at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the official season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, he found victory lane in just his second start with the team in Sunday afternoon’s Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

But while Busch has now broken Richard Petty’s record, having won at least one race for 19 consecutive seasons, he hasn’t officially clinched his 11th straight playoff berth.

With 26 regular season races and 16 playoff spots, there can technically end up being more regular season race winners than playoff spots, meaning that, by definition, the playoff format isn’t a “win and in” format.

We almost saw a winner miss out last year, as 16 drivers found victory lane during the regular season and 19 found victory lane by the time the season ended. A regular season producing 16 or more winners is not at all far-fetched, especially given the parity we’ve seen since the Gen 7 car debuted last year.

The 16 playoff spots go to the regular season champion, even if he doesn’t win any races, and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins. Since there can only be, at most, 13 multi-race winners in the regular season, any driver who wins more than once is locked into the playoffs.

But single-race winners aren’t locked in with a single victory.

If more than 16 drivers end up being playoff eligible, whether that means there are 17 or 18 winners or perhaps even 16 winners and a winless regular season champion, then the tiebreaker among single-race winners to determine who gets in and who doesn’t becomes points.

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

Busch currently sits in eighth place in the point standings, and he is the championship co-favorite, so he is probably pretty safe. But the ninth winningest driver in Cup Series history will be looking to alleviate all doubt and officially solidify his spot in the postseason by winning twice, preferably at his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, this Sunday afternoon.