NASCAR: 16th place finisher can lead all drivers in points

Because of stage racing, a driver can finish as low as 16th place in a NASCAR Cup Series race and lead all drivers in total points scored.
Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR
Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR / Jonathan Bachman/GettyImages

Despite winning Sunday afternoon's NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol, the first regular season race on the track's concrete surface since 2020, Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin finished tied with or behind five other drivers in total points scored throughout the Food City 500.

The driver of the No. 11 Toyota finished the 500-lap race around the four-turn, 0.533-mile (0.858-kilometer) high-banked Bristol, Tennessee oval with 44 points scored, 40 thanks to the win and four thanks to a seventh place finish in the second stage. He did not score any points in stage one.

He finished tied with teammate Martin Truex Jr. (second place), Hendrick Motorsports' Kyle Larson (fifth), and Legacy Motor Club's John Hunter Nemechek (sixth) in total points scored, and he finished behind both teammate Ty Gibbs (ninth) and RFK Racing's Brad Keselowski (third).

Because of the introduction of stage racing in 2017, it is not unheard of for somebody other than a race winner to finish an event with the most total points scored. In fact, it happened just a few weeks ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with race winner Daniel Suarez finishing behind runner-up Ryan Blaney in points.

But did you know that a 16th place driver can technically lead all drivers in total points scored?

As referenced above, race wins pay 40 points each. The second place finisher scores 35, and that tally reduces by one point per position, with everybody who finishes outside of the top 35 scoring just a single point.

If none of the top 15 drivers score stage points and the 16th place finisher wins both stage one and stage two to collect an additional 20 points, he would finish the race with 41 points, tops among everybody in the field.

Such a scenario is highly unlikely to unfold, though it's probably not as unlikely as the other crazy scenario for which stage racing opens up the door: a race winner finishing totally outside of the top 10 in points.

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Even if the three drivers who tied with Hamlin in points on Sunday had picked up an extra point somewhere along the way, he still would have finished sixth in that category as a race winner.