The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs are not as far away as some may think. Now 14 races into the Cup Series season, there are only 12 races left until the Playoffs begin at Darlington in September. With the regular season over halfway over, let’s take a look at the current Cup Series Playoff picture based on drivers who are safe and drivers who are not as safe.
Locked In: William Byron (3 Wins), Kyle Larson (2 Wins), and Kyle Busch (2 Wins)
By virtue of each of these drivers having multiple wins on the season, they will be in the playoffs no matter what happens over these final 12 races. For them, these 12 races are all about gathering as many playoff points as they can to build a nice cushion heading into the Playoffs.
All-But Locked In: Ryan Blaney (1 Win), Martin Truex Jr (1 Win), Christopher Bell (1 Win), Tyler Reddick (1 Win), Denny Hamlin (1 Win), Ricky Stenhouse Jr (1 Win), and Joey Logano (1 Win)
These drivers each have one win on the season, and are safe bets to make the playoffs. It is still theoretically possible that there could be more than 16 winners or 15 winners with the regular season champion being winless. However, each of these drivers sit 70+ points above 17th in the standings if that crazy scenario even occurs.
In Good Shape, but NOT Locked In: Ross Chastain (+165), Kevin Harvick (+157), Brad Keselowski (+113), and Chris Buescher (+87)
Each of these guys are more than a full race’s worth of points in the Playoffs despite having no wins. However, the playoff picture can get murky in terms of winners. Winners from last year outside of the top-16 include Chase Elliot, Chase Briscoe, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Austin Cindric, and Daniel Suarez. AJ Allmendinger cannot be counted out either with four road courses remaining on the regular season schedule.
A lot can still happen throughout the rest of the regular season, so pointing your way in is not a guarantee. Just ask Martin Truex Jr.
On the Bubble: Bubba Wallace (+46), Alex Bowman (+15), Ty Gibbs (-15), Daniel Suarez (-20), Corey LaJoie (-38)
Each of these drivers can realistically point their way into the Playoffs. However, given the amount of drivers outside of the top-16 who could win a race, pointing their way in is definitely not a guarantee. Just one driver winning moves the bubble up, and with only 12 races left before the playoffs, this is certainly a possibility.
Each of these drivers on this list can win though. Even take a look at dark horse Corey LaJoie, who will be driving for Chase Elliot this weekend. If LaJoie wants a playoff spot, this race this weekend can go a long way to getting there.
Maybe a Must Win: Austin Cindric (-42), Michael McDowell (-46), Justin Haley (-49), Todd Gilliland (-52), AJ Allmendinger (-59)
It’s still possible for each of these guys to get into the Playoffs with each of these drivers within one race of the cut-line. However, winning is probably the way forward for each of these drivers. Four of these drivers have won in the Cup Series before, and AJ Allmendinger is the driver to watch out of this group with four road courses left in the regular season.
Must-Win: Aric Almirola (-63), Erik Jones (-70), Ryan Preece (-71), Chase Elliot (-81), Harrison Burton (-101), Austin Dillon (-102), Chase Briscoe (-124), Noah Gragson (-157), Ty Dillon (-176)
All of these drivers have only one way into the playoffs barring a points miracle, and that is to win. Strangely enough, this is a pretty strong group of drivers as six of these nine drivers have won Cup Series races before. On top of that Ryan Preece showed race-winning speed at Martinsville this spring.
I predict that someone from this group will find a way to throw the Playoff grid into a frenzy by the time Daytona is done in August. Hopefully it’s not as a result of a poorly timed rain shower.
The Playoff grid is beginning to develop as the season goes on, and this is a season where an unusual amount of big names are finding themselves either on the outside looking in or in pure must-win situations. Coincidentally, drivers who are not usually up in the points standings are in position to point their way in.
It might be one of the most interesting races to the playoffs since the beginning of this format. This should be a chaotic run to Darlington in September.