Kyle Busch was the man to beat at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and nobody could beat him. But he wasn’t the biggest winner from Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race.
Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points after starting Sunday’s lightning delayed NASCAR Cup Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway from the pole position. After withstanding multiple late restarts, he took the checkered flag to win the Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter.
The driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet was the man to beat and led 121 laps of a 243-lap race which saw only nine lead changes at the four-turn, 1.25-mile (2.012-kilometer) Madison, Illinois oval. And nobody could beat him as he earned a third victory with his new team.
Busch will definitely benefit from the six playoff points he gained, five by winning the race and one by winning stage one. The stage win was surprisingly his first stage win of the year — and thus his first ever stage win as a Chevrolet driver.
He will also benefit from the fact that he moved up multiple positions in the point standings to put himself in position to secure additional playoff points when the regular season ends, provided he remains inside the top 10.
But even big picture-wise, Kyle Busch might not have been the biggest winner of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race.
The fact that Busch won Sunday’s race means that there is one less opportunity for a new winner to emerge. There have already been 10 different already through 15 races this year, meaning that 10 of 16 provisional playoff spots are already occupied. There are now just 11 races remaining on the regular season schedule.
With the potential for more winners than playoff spots, there is still a chance that not all winners qualify for the playoffs.
All drivers with multiple wins are locked in, since the 16 playoff spots officially go to the regular season champion and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins. At most, there can be 13 multi-race winners in the 26-race regular season.
So Busch had already been locked into the postseason before his win on Sunday, since he won at Auto Club Speedway back in February and Talladega Superspeedway back in April.
If there end up being more than 16 winners (or more than 15 winners, in the event that the regular season champion is winless), then the tiebreaker to determine which single-race winners make it into the postseason and which don’t becomes points.
So JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is the lowest ranking single-race winner in the standings in 14th place, will be especially pleased that it was the No. 8 Chevrolet taking the checkered flag on Sunday.
And of course, Busch winning Sunday’s race is the next best thing for any driver who hasn’t yet won this year, as it means that the same number of playoff spots remain open heading into the next race at Sonoma Raceway.
It also makes it increasingly likely that the playoff format will, once again, turn out to be “win and in”. Any time a driver who has already won a race wins again, the chance of there being more playoff eligible drivers than playoff spots decreases just a little bit more.
More importantly, the playoff cut line remains between the 16th and 17th place drivers. Last year, the fourth place driver, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., missed the playoffs because he didn’t win.
Trackhouse Racing Team’s Daniel Suarez currently holds the 16th and final playoff spot as the sixth highest ranking non-winner. He holds a slim lead of just six points over Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman, who recently missed three races with a back injury and was docked 60 points earlier in the year.
The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season’s 16th race, the Toyota/Save Mart 350, is scheduled to take place at Sonoma Raceway this Sunday, June 11. The race, which was won by Suarez a year ago, is set to be broadcast live on Fox beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!