NASCAR race winner could miss the 2023 playoffs

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Daytona 500, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Daytona 500, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Winning a NASCAR Cup Series race does not guarantee a driver a spot in the playoffs, despite the “win and in” perception of the postseason format.

The first seven races of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season have seen six different winners.

JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch then won at Auto Club Speedway before Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway.

Team Penske’s Joey Logano won at Atlanta Motor Speedway, 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick won at Circuit of the Americas, and Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson won at Richmond Raceway.

NASCAR, which is considered the only league in which you can clinch a playoff spot in Week 1, utilizes a unique postseason format that values regular season wins.

But the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs could end up excluding one or more race winners.

The reason for this is the fact that, while it has proven true in the past, the postseason technically doesn’t utilize a “win and in” format. There are 16 playoff spots and 26 regular season races, so there can end up being more than 16 winners before the postseason rolls around.

This is something that almost happened last year, when there were exactly 16 winners. The 2022 season ended up seeing 19 total winners, but three of them only won in the playoffs.

So while many have made claims such as “Stenhouse clinched a playoff spot”, that isn’t automatically accurate.

The 16 playoff spots are officially awarded to the regular season champion, whether he has any wins to his name or not, and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins.

This means that all drivers with multiple wins are locked in, as there can be no more than 13 of them during the regular season. Even if the regular season champion is winless, only 14 spots would be occupied. As a result, Byron is currently the only driver who has locked up a playoff spot.

So in the event that there are more than 16 regular season race winners, the odd driver (or drivers) out will be a single-race winner (or single-race winners). The tiebreaker to determine which single-race winners get in and which don’t becomes points.

It’s the same concept that is used when there are fewer than 16 regular season race winners. When this is the case, the non-winners who rank highest in points fill the postseason field.

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

Right now, Larson and Logano lead all single-race winners in a fourth place tie in the standings. Busch sits in sixth ahead of Reddick in 12th and Stenhouse in 16th.