NASCAR: Austin Cindric not locked into playoffs after Gateway

Austin Cindric secured his first NASCAR Cup Series victory in more than two years in Sunday's race at Gateway, and he did it in thrilling fashion.
Austin Cindric, Team Penske, Gateway, NASCAR
Austin Cindric, Team Penske, Gateway, NASCAR / Logan Riely/GettyImages

Coming to the white flag in Sunday afternoon's Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney looked poised to claim his first victory of the 2024 season.

But the No. 12 Team Penske Ford ran out of fuel, giving the lead to teammate Austin Cindric. Cindric held on to win, while Blaney plummeted all the way to 24th place.

Cindric, who started the 240-lap race around the four-turn, 1.25-mile (2.012-kilometer) Madison, Illinois oval on the front row behind the wheel of his No. 2 Ford, entered the race on an 85-race win drought.

He had not found victory lane since winning the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway to start the 2022 season, and his position in the point standings through the first 14 races of this year's 26-race regular season schedule made it likely that he would need to change that in order to get into this year's playoffs.

Cindric is indeed now positioned well above the playoff cut line thanks to his victory, but he hasn't officially secured his spot yet, as the playoff format is technically not a "win and in" format.

Austin Cindric not locked into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs

There have been nine different winners in the 2024 season's first 15 races, and there are still 11 races remaining on the regular season schedule, which opens up the possibility of having more than 16 winners. The 16 playoff spots officially go to the regular season champion, whether he is a winner or not, and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins.

With 26 regular season races, there can be no more than 13 multi-race winners, so the only four drivers who are officially locked into the playoffs are Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron (three wins) and Kyle Larson (two wins), and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin (three wins) and Christopher Bell (two wins).

This list, of course, assumes that Larson is granted a playoff waiver after missing the recent Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

If there end up being more winners than playoff spots, a scenario which has not yet unfolded since the modern playoff format was introduced in 2014, the tiebreaker to determine which single-race winners get into the playoffs and which don't becomes points.

Cindric currently sits fourth of the five single-race winners in the point standings. Hendrick Motorsports' Chase Elliott, who won at Texas Motor Speedway, leads the way in third place, followed by 23XI Racing's Tyler Reddick, who won at Talladega Superspeedway, in sixth, and RFK Racing's Brad Keselowski, who won at Darlington Raceway, in a tie for eighth.

Cindric sits in 18th place, ahead of only Trackhouse Racing's Daniel Suarez, who won at Atlanta Motor Speedway, in 19th.

With two winners having emerged from below the playoff cut line, the cutoff currently sits between the 14th and 15th place drivers, rather than the 16th and 17th place drivers.

RFK Racing's Chris Buescher is the driver on the bubble in 14th place, with Stewart-Haas Racing's Chase Briscoe right below it in 15th.

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Will a 10th different winner emerge in the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season's 16th race? Tune in to Fox at 3:30 p.m. ET this coming Sunday, June 9 for the live broadcast of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 from Sonoma Raceway. Start a free trial of FuboTV today and don't miss any of the action!