With 10 Cup races left in NASCAR’s regular season, drivers continue to jockey for the 16 positions in what NASCAR now calls, simply, the playoffs.
While the points system has changed drastically, how a driver gets into the playoffs has remained the same: The regular-season champ earns one of the 16 spots, and the next 15 are determined by the number of wins, with ties broken by regular-season points. Among those 15, each driver needs to finish the regular season in the top 30 in points and compete each weekend.
So far, 10 drivers have playoff-qualifying wins. Joey Logano‘s victory at Richmond doesn’t qualify him for the playoffs because his car had an illegal rear suspension.
Here’s how the current roster of top-30 NASCAR drivers (not including the injured Aric Almirola) can approach the final 10 regular-season races when looking at their playoff chances:
Multiple wins and in
A winner feeling tiebreaker safe
Kevin Harvick has 133 points more than any other one-win driver and 220 points more than the lowest-ranking driver (Austin Dillon) with one win. Harvick should have no problem making it even if there are more than 16 winners.
Winners making playoff plans
Of the remaining five drivers with wins, Ryan Blaney has a 93-point edge on Dillon, and Kurt Busch has a 67-point cushion. Plus, they have been the most consistent, as Busch has eight top-10s and Blaney has six.
Winners who could feel the heat
There likely won’t be six different winners in the next 10 races, although Daytona and Watkins Glen have upset potential, and several big names who are used to winning haven’t won this year. But these three drivers — all race winners — can’t feel totally safe: Ryan Newman (45-point edge on Dillon), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (23-point edge) and Dillon. Stenhouse just needs to avoid trouble — he has six top-10s this year but also three races when he has failed to finish.
He has a point (and more)
Kyle Busch, with a 119-point edge on the first driver (Matt Kenseth) currently outside the 16-driver playoff cutoff, should feel good about where he is in points. Plus, his 746 laps led this year ranks him second among all drivers — and that should lead to a win sometime soon.
Three drivers who should be good on points, as long as there aren’t many more winners, are Chase Elliott (86-point cushion on Kenseth), Jamie McMurray (54) and Denny Hamlin (53). How close are these drivers to winning? Elliott has five top-5s this year, Hamlin has four and McMurray has two.
These three drivers could definitely get in on points, but they’re firmly on the bubble and need the drivers below them in the standings to stay out of Victory Lane. Logano has 11 points on Kenseth, while Clint Bowyer has four. At just four points behind, Kenseth has a realistic chance of getting in on points. No one would be surprised if any of these three drivers wins a race: Logano has seven top-5s this year, while Kenseth and Bowyer have three.
Rally hats, anyone?
With 55 points possible for a non-winning driver in any race, these three drivers could find themselves in the hunt on points if they rattle off several top-5s and win a stage or finish up front in several stages: Erik Jones is 69 points behind Bowyer for the last spot on points, followed by Trevor Bayne (90) and Daniel Suarez (93). Here’s the problem: Jones has one top-5 this year, and Bayne and Suarez don’t have any, so the chances of them rallying in on points is slim. They also haven’t yet been in any sort of consistent position to win. Jones has led 22 laps this year, while Bayne has led six and Suarez has led one. But get this: Newman has a win and has led just 37 laps this year, Stenhouse has led 22 laps, Dillon has led just nine, and Kurt Busch has led just six.
Need to win
Everyone else, for all intents and purposes, needs to win. They are at least 120 points behind the current playoff cutoff. Included in that group: Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ty Dillon, Paul Menard, Chris Buescher, Michael McDowell, AJ Allmendinger, Danica Patrick and David Ragan. None of them, with a win, likely would have any worries about not finishing in the top 30. Of these drivers, Ty Dillon has led the most laps (33), followed by Earnhardt (10). Kahne is the only driver in this group with more than one top-5 this year (he has two).