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The Biggest Names Who MISSED the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs

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Ever since the Playoffs were first implemented in 2004, some big names have found themselves on the outside looking in at the end of the regular season. In recent years, it has become rarer with the expansion of the field, but some drivers have still found themselves missing the Playoffs. Here are some of the biggest name drivers to miss the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

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2005: Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

During the inaugural Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were legitimate Championship contenders. In 2005, they both struggled. Earnhardt Jr. was behind for almost the entire season as he finished 19th in points. Gordon won the Daytona 500 and three of the first nine races, but he fell off from there.

Gordon would go on to finish 11th in the points standings after nabbing a win at Martinsville during the Playoffs. He also began a partnership with Steve Letarte late in the season which lasted until 2009. Earnhardt Jr. went on to finish 19th in the standings, but both drivers were back in the Playoffs by 2006.

2006: Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart was the defending NASCAR Cup Series Champion in 2006, and he looked like it early in the season. He was second in points 11 races in with a win at Martinsville. After nabbing a second win at Daytona, he was fifth in points, solidly in the 10 race Playoffs heading into the final three races of the regular season. He finished 22nd, 9th, and 18th in those final three races to miss out by only 16 points.

Despite the disappointing finish, Stewart ran pretty well in the postseason. He recorded five top-5 finishes including three wins at Kansas, Atlanta, and Texas. The following season, the Playoffs were expanded from 10 to 12 drivers, many claiming in response to Stewart’s late-season surge.

2009: Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

In 2009, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a non-factor all season long, and he missed the Playoffs by a staggering nine points positions. Kyle Busch’s season played out eerily similar to Jeff Gordon’s. Busch won three of the first 10 races, and he sat in fifth in the points following the 10th race of the season.

From there, he slowly fell off until he was 15th in the standings with only three races left. He would miss the Playoffs by eight points despite winning another race at Bristol. It was not the final time Busch would miss the Playoffs either, as he would be outdueled by Jeff Gordon in 2012.

2017: Joey Logano

Joey Logano started out the 2017 season well eight top-10 and six top-5 finishes in the first nine races. He won Richmond to make the Playoffs, until his car failed post-race inspection, and his win was ruled “encumbered”, meaning it did not count toward Playoff eligibility. Despite losing the win, Logano seemed like a lock to make the Playoffs.

He went on to record only four top-10 finishes in the next 16 races, and, by virtue of surprise winners, he was a staggering 129 points below the cut-line. Logano fought hard and finished second at Richmond, but he missed the Playoffs. The follow-up, however, was his first Cup Series Championship in 2018.

2022: Martin Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr. was in the top 7 in points for virtually the entire season, but he could not find victory lane. New winner after new winner in 2022 meant that there was only one points-paying position in the Playoffs at the end of the season. Truex Jr. was well behind Ryan Blaney on points during the final Playoff race at Daytona, and his car was heavily damaged thanks to that infamous Daytona accident in August of 2022.

He missed the Playoffs for the first time since 2014, and many wondered if he would retire at season’s end. Truex Jr. came back in 2023, and, well let’s just say that he has redeemed himself well.

Heading into Daytona this weekend, it seems one or a few big names will be on the outside looking in for the Cup Series Playoffs. Will they be added to this list?

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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