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What Happens if There Are More Than 16 Winners at the End of the Season?

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What’s Happening?

With the current NASCAR playoff format, a win virtually guarantees drivers a spot in the 16-driver playoff field at the end of the 26-race regular season. The key word there is “virtually” because while a win does all but lock drivers into the playoffs, it doesn’t 100 percent lock them in if certain scenarios occur.

  • There are 16 spots available in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, with drivers fighting all year to claim one of the valuable spots.
  • While a win virtually locks drivers into the playoff field, it doesn’t completely guarantee a driver is locked in if certain scenarios present themselves.
  • So, what scenarios cause a win not to lock a driver into the playoff field? Find out below!

How Does the Regular Season Work?

We’ll start with the basics because understanding how the regular season works and how points are awarded plays is key. The Cup Series runs a 36-race schedule, with 26 races coming in the regular season and the final 10 being playoff races. How a driver performs in the regular season plays a big role in their playoff seeding. Performing well can provide a driver with a huge advantage going into the final 10 races, while underperforming and limping into the playoffs can put a driver on the back foot before the green flag drops on the first playoff race.

So that begs the question, how do the regular season points work? Drivers compete for maximum points payouts in each race. A driver can earn 40 points for a win, 35 points for second place, and one fewer point per position below second down to 36th. Drivers also compete for stage points in each race, which can provide valuable “playoff points” that drivers benefit from once the final 10 races begin.

Drivers can earn stage points in stages one and two of each race, earning 10 stage points for a win and one less point per position back to 10th, with the 10th place finisher earning one stage point. The winner of stages one and two is awarded a playoff point. Beyond that, the winner of the race takes home five playoff points, and the regular season champion is awarded a massive 15 playoff points. Points are reset at the beginning of the playoffs, with drivers’ playoff points collected throughout the season being added to their total.

For a more comprehensive breakdown of the NASCAR points system, check out our Points and Playoff System Explained article.

What Happens if there are More Than 16 Winners?

So now you might be asking yourself, there are 16 playoff spots, and a win is supposed to lock you into the playoffs, so what happens if there are more than 16 winners? We’ll get into that and look at some scenarios and how they would play out.

Scenario 1: Less than 16 winners

This is the most basic and least chaotic scenario. It’s pretty simple; if there are fewer than 16 winners, the drivers who have won a race are locked into the playoffs and would be re-seeded at the points reset based on playoff points collected throughout the regular season. Subsequently, the drivers who did not earn a win during the season would fill out the remaining playoff spots based on their point totals from the regular season. For example, if there are 12 winners, the highest point earners would fill the remaining four spots during the season beyond the 12 winners. Simple and clean.

Scenario 2: 16 Winners, 16 Spots

Another relatively simple scenario. There are 16 playoff spots. If there are 16 winners, the playoff field would be reset based on playoff points earned, with tiebreaks for seeding being implemented.

Austin Dillon wins the regular-season finale to become the 16th winner of the 2022 season to lock himself into the playoffs.

Scenario 3: A Winless Regular Season Champion

This is where things start to get wild. A win is supposed to qualify a driver for the playoffs automatically, but being the regular season champion is also worthy of an automatic bid. This would include a winless regular-season champion, as consistency can carry a driver to a regular season championship without winning a single race. In this scenario, if there were 16 winners with the regular season champion not being one of those 16, the winless champion would get the playoff spot over the winning driver with the fewest amount of points collected throughout the season. While this scenario has never happened before, it was very close to becoming a possibility in 2022, a season that saw a NASCAR-record 19 different winners.

Scenario 4: Chaos: 17 Winners

This would be full-blown chaos territory for the current playoff format. This scenario would clearly break the “win and you’re in” narrative. Since the current playoff format was implemented in 2014, a win has guaranteed drivers a spot in the playoffs. This would all go out the window if there was a scenario including 17 regular season winners or more.

Here is how this hypothetical scenario would play out: Every driver with multiple wins would advance. One-win drivers would then be determined based on points earned throughout the season. The one-win driver with the lowest point total would be the odd man out and eliminated from playoff contention. It would be a tough pill for that driver to swallow, but in scenarios such as this one, drastic times call for drastic measures.


Now that we’ve gone through all the scenarios, hopefully, you have a better idea of how things work when it comes to playoff seeding and what would happen in the event that there were more winners than spots available in the playoff field. Now give us your thoughts! What are some crazy scenarios that you can imagine? What is the wildest playoff scenario you can remember from the last few years? Let us know, and follow us on our social channels at The Daily Downforce to stay up-to-date with the latest NASCAR news and information!

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Wyatt Bell

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