NASCAR playoffs: William Byron not locked in after Daytona 500 win

William Byron may not have mathematically clinched a spot in the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with his Daytona 500, but he might as well have.

William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, Daytona 500, NASCAR
William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, Daytona 500, NASCAR / James Gilbert/GettyImages

For all intents and purposes, Hendrick Motorsports' William Byron punched his ticket to the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs by winning the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

The victory, which came after Byron led just four laps of the 200-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) high-banked Daytona Beach, Florida, was Rick Hendrick's first "Great American Race" win since 2014.

It came on the 40-year anniversary of the team's first start after the race was pushed back by a day due to rain.

But as we do every year, it's a good time to remind everyone how the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs actually work.

In the first 10 years of the modern playoff format, all points-eligible regular season race winners have qualified for the playoffs, excluding Joey Logano in 2017 after his victory was encumbered (but still counted toward his season/career win total).

However, a race win does not necessarily guarantee a driver a spot in the playoffs. There are 26 regular season races and 16 playoff spots. Those spots go to the regular season champion, whether he wins any races or not, and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins.

There can only be 13 multi-race winners in the regular season, so winning twice is enough to secure a driver a playoff spot. But in the event that there are more than 16 winners, the tiebreaker among single-race winners becomes points. If there aren't enough winners to fill the spots, points determine who lands the remaining openings.

Of course, Byron is also the points leader, and he led the series in both total points scored and victories last year. He is performing at the highest level of his career, and he took that to another level on Monday. He is effectively locked in, but he hasn't mathematically clinched yet.

Byron has made it to the playoffs in every year except his rookie season since he joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2018. He qualified for the Championship 4 for the first time in his career a year ago. He has now won a least one race in each of the last five seasons and is riding a two-year streak of multiple wins entering the 2024 season.

On only one occasion have there been 16 playoff-eligible regular season race winners (2022). Even had one of them (Kurt Busch) not withdrawn from the playoffs due to injury, it still would have theoretically amounted to a "win and in" format.

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The Ambetter Health 400 is the second race on the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series schedule, and it is scheduled to take place on Sunday, February 25. Fox is set to provide live coverage starting at 3:00 p.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV now and don't miss it!