Seventy-four times since the very first season of NASCAR's Strictly Stock division in 1949, championship trophies have been handed out to the top driver at the very highest level of stock car racing. From Red Byron back in NASCAR's first season to Joey Logano at the end of its 74th in 2022, generations of racing greats have solidified their legacies by adding Grand National titles, Winston Cups, Sprint Cups, and now the Bill France Cup to their trophy cases and to their resumes.
This year, in NASCAR's 75th Anniversary season, 16 drivers now have the opportunity to polish off the sport's diamond anniversary celebration by winning a NASCAR Cup Series championship. To do that, they'll need to put themselves through the ringer of the NASCAR playoffs, a 10-week, four-round battle to get to the season finale in Phoenix with a chance at a winner-take-all match race for the series title.
Martin Truex Jr., the 2023 regular-season champion, and William Byron, the winningest driver of 2023 with five victories, have distinguished themselves from the rest of the pack and begin the playoffs tied at the top of the standings. But time and again, the NASCAR playoffs have proven to be equal parts punishing and unpredictable.
With even just one misstep, some of the best drivers of the season like Truex, Byron, Kyle Busch and the red-hot Chris Buescher could find themselves below the cut line. Conversely, drivers like Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., playoff first-timer Bubba Wallace, and the retiring Kevin Harvick could emerge on the plus side and come closer to the ultimate season-long goal of all drivers in NASCAR.
NASCAR Cup Series playoff format
The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs features an elimination-style format with four rounds in all. Drivers are seeded based on their number of race wins as well as the number of "playoff points" -- points earned from either winning a race, winning a stage mid-race, or through their points position at the end of the regular season -- they have accumulated throughout the entire season.
A driver can advance one of two ways:
- If they win a race, they automatically advance to the next round of the playoffs.
- Alternatively, they can also make it into the next round on points so long as they are above the cutoff line at the end of each respective three-race round.
- The four drivers below the cutoff line at the end of each round are eliminated from the playoffs and eliminated from championship contention. After each round, every remaining driver's points totals are reset, with playoff points continuing to determine seeding.
The four rounds of the playoffs are the Round of 16, the Round of 12, the Round of 8, and the Championship 4. The Championship 4 has special rules, as all four remaining drivers will have their points totals reset to an equal number for the final race of the season at Phoenix Raceway. That effectively turns the final race of the year into a pure match race, as whichever Championship 4 driver has the best finish in the season finale wins the NASCAR Cup Series championship.
NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings
- #24 - William Byron - 2036 pts - 5 wins, 36 playoff pts
- #19 - Martin Truex Jr. - 2036 pts - 3 wins, 36 playoff pts
- #11 - Denny Hamlin - 2025 pts (+18) - 2 wins, 25 playoff pts
- #17 - Chris Buescher - 2021 pts (+14) - 3 wins, 21 playoff pts
- #8 - Kyle Busch - 2019 pts (+12) - 3 wins, 19 playoff pts
- #5 - Kyle Larson - 2017 pts (+10) - 2 wins, 17 playoff pts
- #20 - Christopher Bell - 2014 pts (+7) - 1 win, 14 playoff pts
- #1 - Ross Chastain - 2011 pts (+4) - 1 win, 11 playoff pts
- #6 - Brad Keselowski - 2010 pts (+3) - 10 playoff pts
- #45 - Tyler Reddick - 2009 pts (+2) - 1 win, 9 playoff pts
- #22 - Joey Logano - 2008 pts (+1) - 1 win, 8 playoff pts
- #12 - Ryan Blaney - 2008 pts (+1) - 1 win, 8 playoff pts
- #34 - Michael McDowell - 2007 pts (-1) - 1 win, 7 playoff pts
- #47 - Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - 2005 pts (-3) - 1 win, 5 playoff pts
- #4 - Kevin Harvick - 2004 pts (-4) - 4 playoff pts
- #23 - Bubba Wallace - 2000 pts (-8)
NASCAR Cup Series playoff schedule
Round of 16
- Sun., Sept. 3 - Southern 500 - Darlington Raceway (Winner: Kyle Larson)
- Sun., Sept. 10 - Kansas Speedway (Winner: Tyler Reddick)
- Sat., Sept. 16 - Bristol Motor Speedway (Winner: Denny Hamlin)
Round of 12
- Sun., Sept. 24 - Texas Motor Speedway (Winner: William Byron)
- Sun., Oct. 1 - Talladega Superspeedway
- Sun., Oct. 8 - Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval
Round of 8
- Sun., Oct. 15 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway
- Sun., Oct. 22 - Homestead-Miami Speedway
- Sun., Oct. 29 - Martinsville Speedway
- Sun., Nov. 5 - Phoenix Raceway