First NASCAR Cup Series playoff berth clinched at Phoenix

William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

William Byron became the first driver to clinch a spot in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with his victory at Phoenix Raceway.

Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron has been no stranger to slow starts throughout his six-year NASCAR Cup Series career. In a season’s first two races, he has never finished inside the top 16.

But after race two, he generally gets it going. That has once again been the case this year.

In 2021, he won the season’s third race to start an 11-race streak of top nine finishes. In 2022, he won twice and recorded two other top five finishes from race three through race eight. Now in 2023, he has won back-to-back races after starting the year with a 34th place DNF and a 25th place finish.

After earning his first win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last Sunday afternoon, he wrapped up the west coast swing with his first win at Phoenix Raceway this past Sunday afternoon.

As the first driver to reach two wins, the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet is also the first driver to clinch a berth in this year’s NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

Many believe that the playoff format is a “win and in” format, but with 26 regular season races and just 16 playoff spots, that isn’t guaranteed to be true. The 16 playoff spots go to the regular season champion and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins.

If there are more playoff eligible drivers than spots open, then the tiebreaker to determine which single-race winners get in becomes points.

But all multi-race winners are locked in, since there can’t be more than 13 of them before the playoffs. Even with a winless regular season champion, only 14 of 16 playoff spots would be accounted for.

Interestingly, this marks the second straight year in which Byron has been the first driver to clinch a playoff spot. Last year, it took until the season’s eighth race at Martinsville Speedway, as the first seven races saw seven different winners, including Byron at Atlanta Motor Speedway. This year, it took only four.

Last year marked the first time ever that the first driver to two wins failed to qualify for the Championship 4. Every driver who pulled it off from 2014, which is when the Championship 4 format was introduced, to 2021 managed to qualify for the winner-take-all championship round.

The 2023 season’s other two winners are JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Daytona International Speedway) and Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch (Auto Club Speedway).

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

The 2023 season’s fifth race, the Ambetter Health 400, is set to be broadcast live on Fox from Atlanta Motor Speedway beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 19. Begin a free trial of FuboTV and don’t miss it!