NASCAR: Brad Keselowski not locked into playoffs after first win since 2021

Brad Keselowski is all but locked into the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs after winning at Darlington Raceway, but only three drivers have mathematically punched their tickets.
Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing, Darlington Raceway, NASCAR
Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing, Darlington Raceway, NASCAR / Meg Oliphant/GettyImages

RFK Racing's Brad Keselowski ended Ford's massive NASCAR win drought to start the 2024 season on Sunday afternoon at Darlington Raceway, and in winning the Goodyear 400, he ended his own career-long 110-race win drought which began after he earned his final win as a Team Penske driver at Talladega Superspeedway in April 2021.

After late contact between teammate Chris Buescher and 23XI Racing's Tyler Reddick allowed him to regain the lead, Keselowski brought Jack Roush's No. 6 Ford back to victory lane for the first time since David Ragan won at Daytona International Speedway in July 2011.

Keselowski's first season with RFK Racing as both a driver and a co-owner did not go well in 2022, but he left Roger Penske's team after the 2021 season knowing that a turnaround would not happen overnight. He experienced his first winless season since 2010, his rookie season, in 2022, and he failed to make it to the playoffs, which hadn't happened since 2013.

The 40-year-old Rochester Hills, Michigan native returned to the playoffs last season, but he failed to find victory lane once again. Buescher, who won one race late in 2022, secured a career-high three victories in 2023.

Now Keselowski is back in victory lane, though it is worth mentioning that his playoff spot for 2024 is not officially secure -- yet.

Brad Keselowski rises up the playoff ranks

The 16 playoff spots go to the regular season champion and the 15 drivers who rank highest in wins. With 26 regular season races, there can be more winners than playoff spots, meaning that at this point in the year, the only way to lock into the postseason is by winning twice, as no more than 13 drivers can win multiple regular season races.

In the event that there are more winners than playoff spots, the tiebreaker to determine which single-race winners get in and which don't becomes points. As of now, Keselowski sits in 11th place in the point standings, placing him third of the five single-race winners.

Hendrick Motorsports' Chase Elliott, the winner at Texas Motor Speedway, leads the group in fourth place in the standings, with Reddick, the winner at Talladega Superspeedway sitting behind him in sixth.

Joe Gibbs Racing's Christopher Bell, the winner at Phoenix Raceway, sits in 15th place, with Trackhouse Racing Team's Daniel Suarez, the winner at Atlanta Motor Speedway, sitting in 18th.

The three multi-race winners include Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin (three wins) and Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron (three wins) and Kyle Larson (two wins). Those three drivers are the only three drivers mathematically locked into this year's playoffs at the halfway point of the regular season.

Having said that, there have been eight winners in the season's first 13 races. There are 13 races to go before the playoffs. The odds of eight new winners emerging in those 13 races are quite slim when you consider the fact that three drivers have combined to win eight times already this year.

There has also only been a single instance of 16 drivers winning a regular season race since the modern playoff format was introduced in 2014, and that happened in 2022, which was the Next Gen car's first season.

So with all things considered, Keselowski appears to be safe. After making it into the postseason without a win for the first time with his new team a year ago, the 2012 series champion looks poised for another playoff run in 2024, this time a 36-time race winner -- or perhaps even more than that.

The next race on the schedule is the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, which is scheduled to take place on Sunday, May 19. But this race, which is set to be shown live on Fox Sports 1 beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET, is not a points race, meaning that it will have no effect on the playoff picture.

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The second half of the 2024 regular season is officially scheduled to get underway with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 26. Fox is set to provide live coverage beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET. Reigning series champion Ryan Blaney of Team Penske is the reigning winner of this race. Will a ninth new winner emerge in 2024? Begin a free trial of FuboTV and don't miss any of the upcoming Cup Series action!