NASCAR playoffs: Daniel Suarez not locked in, despite Atlanta win

In one of the greatest finishes in NASCAR Cup Series history, Daniel Suarez secured his second career victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing Team, Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR
Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing Team, Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

Trackhouse Racing Team's Daniel Suarez collected his second career NASCAR Cup Series victory and first since June 2022 on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway in a historically close finish that needed further video review to confirm.

Suarez's No. 99 Chevrolet edged out the No. 12 Ford of Team Penske's Ryan Blaney by just 0.003 seconds, and just 0.004 seconds behind Blaney was the No. 8 Chevrolet of Richard Childress Racing's Kyle Busch.

The finish, which closely resembled the famous three-way tie in the Cars movie, was classified as the third closest finish in Cup Series history among the top two, and it is believed to be the closest ever among the top three.

Daniel Suarez not locked into NASCAR Cup Series playoffs

In six full seasons of Cup Series competition, Suarez's only playoff appearance came in 2022, when he locked up a spot in the postseason by earning his first career win at Sonoma Raceway.

While his win on Sunday puts him atop the playoff leaderboard with fellow 2024 race winner William Byron or Hendrick Motorsports, he hasn't truly clinched a playoff spot -- yet.

With 26 regular season races and 16 playoff spots, there is always a chance that there could be more winners than available playoff spots (even though it admittedly hasn't happened in the 10-year history of the modern playoff format). As a result, it's not truly a "win and in" format.

The playoff spots are officially awarded to the regular season champion, even if he doesn't win a race, and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins.

Winning twice secures any driver a playoff spot, as there can not be any more than 13 multi-race winners in the regular season. But if there end up being more than 16 winners, the tiebreaker to determine which single-race winners get in and which don't becomes points.

It's basically the same "tiebreaker" used to determine who gets in when there aren't 16 winners. In that case, the remaining spots are filled based on the point standings among non-winners.

Suarez currently sits in sixth place in the standings, and while he might not have mathematically locked up a playoff spot, he has to be feeling pretty good about getting to the playoffs for the second time in the last three years -- and, of course, pretty good about coming out ahead in that finish.

Among points-eligible drivers, the only winner who has failed to qualify for the playoffs since the modern format was introduced was Joey Logano in 2017, after his win at Richmond Raceway was "encumbered" (but still counted toward his season and career win totals).

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The 2024 season's third race is the Pennzoil 400, which is scheduled to take place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this coming Sunday, March 3. Fox is set to provide live coverage starting at 3:30 p.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV and don't miss it!