Just two teams have all of their cars locked into the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. 23XI Racing are one of several trying to become number three.
While there haven’t been as many different winners in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series regular season as there were during the 2022 regular season, the parity of the Next Gen era continues to be on display on a regular basis.
Several drivers we aren’t accustomed to seeing win have found victory lane this year, and several drivers we have grown accustomed to seeing win have not yet managed to do so.
Through the first 25 races of the 26-race regular season, there have been 14 different visitors to victory lane, including 13 who are playoff eligible. The lone exception is Shane van Gisbergen, who won on debut for Trackhouse Racing Team in early July on the streets of Chicago.
This number is shy of the 16 winners from last year’s regular season, and it is well shy of the 19 total winners that the 2022 season’s first 29 races produced, but it’s who some of those winners are that have caught a lot of people by surprise.
JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hadn’t won a race nor qualified for the playoffs since 2017 until his Daytona 500 victory.
RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher hadn’t won a race since 2016 up until last September, and he now has three wins in the last calendar year, including two in eight days earlier this summer to secure his first playoff spot in seven years.
Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell had just one win and one playoff berth in his 16-year career prior to his dominant victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Team Penske face the possibility of having a driver miss the playoffs for the first time since 2017, Stewart-Haas Racing face the possibility of 75% of their team failing to qualify for the postseason, and half of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers face the possibility of missing the playoffs for the first time in their careers.
All things considered, only two teams have all of their drivers locked into the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs: RFK Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing.
Buescher locked in with his two victories, and teammate — and team co-owner — Brad Keselowski locked in on points. Stenhouse’s season-opening Daytona 500 victory locked him in.
None of these three drivers made it into last year’s playoffs, yet their teams are the only teams with guaranteed 100% representation in this year’s postseason thus far.
Eight other teams have drivers locked into the playoffs, but only six of them — plus an additional single-car team — have a chance to become one of three teams to get all of their drivers into the playoffs in this Saturday night’s regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway.
No more than one of them will do so. In fact, there is a chance that none of them will have done so by the time the Coke Zero Sugar 400 concludes.
Those seven teams are as follows:
- 23XI Racing (Tyler Reddick is in; Bubba Wallace can get in with a win or on points)
- Front Row Motorsports (Michael McDowell is in; Todd Gilliland needs to win)
- Joe Gibbs Racing (Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin, and Martin Truex Jr. are in; Ty Gibbs can get in with a win or on points)
- Richard Childress Racing (Kyle Busch is in; Austin Dillon needs to win)
- Team Penske (Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano are in; Austin Cindric needs to win)
- Trackhouse Racing Team (Ross Chastain is in; Daniel Suarez can get in with a win or on points)
- Wood Brothers Racing (Harrison Burton needs to win)
23XI Racing co-owner Denny Hamlin knew that getting both of his drivers into the playoffs was going to be a tall task.
The Hamlin and Michael Jordan-owned 23XI Racing team are only in their third season in the Cup Series, and this is only their second season with two cars. It is Reddick’s first season with the organization.
But this was Hamlin’s expectation heading into the year, and Wallace has a chance to turn it into reality if he can hold onto the 16th and final playoff spot on Saturday night.
“It was,” Hamlin confirmed to Beyond the Flag. “I mean, it might be a high expectation, but that’s what I expect for my team, is to go out there and perform.”
Reddick earned his third consecutive playoff berth with a victory at Circuit of the Americas in late March. Wallace is seeking his first career playoff berth in his sixth full season in the series. He has been with 23XI Racing since they entered the Cup Series in 2021.
“At the beginning of the year, we set out to put two cars in the playoffs, and at least one of them could make a deep run,” Hamlin continued. “Bubba has never made the playoffs before; he’s in the best position he’s ever been in to do that, and so it’s certainly a big weekend for our team, and hopefully we get them to the finish line.”
The fact that so few other teams can say that they will have 100% representation in the playoffs makes the potential for this achievement that much sweeter.
“We haven’t had the number of winners as what we had last year,” Hamlin stated. “I think that the teams with the best resources are still winning the bulk of the races. It’s good to see organizations like Front Row running out front and winning races with Michael McDowell. I know he has been part of the sport for quite a while, and he’s starting to see the success from of all the hard work that he’s put in.
“It’s really cool to have the No. 47 car with Ricky Stenhouse going to be part of the playoffs from his Daytona 500 win. This is a big moment for those organizations to be part of the playoffs and have a shot at a championship. So I think a lot of it does fall on the shoulders of the [Next Gen] car and how equal it is for everyone.”
FanDuel Sportsbook, which is offering fans an instant $200 for betting $5, lists Wallace at +1800 to win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale on Saturday night.
Sitting 32 points ahead of the playoff cut line, he isn’t in a must-win situation like many others are, but he could end up needing to win to keep somebody else from winning to preserve that 16th and final spot, given the fact that there are 16 other drivers battling for it.
Odds and availability subject to change. Lock in your $200 today!
Daytona International Speedway is scheduled to host the Coke Zero Sugar 400 on Saturday, August 26, with live coverage set for NBC beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET. Start a free trial of FuboTV today and don’t miss it!