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NASCAR Playoffs 101: What you need to know

Editor’s note: This story was published in 2018, but the format remains the same for this year.

The structure

For all three NASCAR national series, there are a series of eliminations as the playoffs progress. This culminates in the series finales at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the Championship 4 drivers race “straight-up” for the title — the first to cross the line of the four championship-eligible drivers is crowned the champion.

How they got here:
“Win and you’re in.” Championship-eligible drivers who won a race during the regular season, attempted to qualify for all regular-season races and met a minimum points position (Monster Energy Series: Top 30; NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series: Top 20) qualify for the playoffs.

If there are fewer unique race winners than open spots in the playoffs, the remaining positions are filled based on regular-season points.

Round-by-round

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
– 16 drivers, four rounds
– Playoffs begin at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
– Cutoff races, where four drivers are eliminated from the playoffs: Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, Kansas Speedway, ISM Raceway at Phoenix

NASCAR Xfinity Series
– 12 drivers, three rounds
– Playoffs begin at Richmond Raceway
– Cutoff races, where four drivers are eliminated from the playoffs: Dover International Speedway and ISM Raceway at Phoenix

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
– 8 drivers, three rounds
– Playoffs began at Bristol Motor Speedway
– Cutoff races, where two drivers are eliminated from the playoffs: Las Vegas Motor Speedway and ISM Raceway at Phoenix

The points

Throughout the regular season, drivers in all three national series earned playoff points to be used in the postseason. The playoff points procedure is uniform across all three national series and continues in the playoffs for drivers who remain in contention.

Ways drivers earn playoff points:
– Win Stage 1 or Stage 2 in a race: 1 playoff point (point awarded per stage win)
– Win a race: 5 playoff points
– Win the regular-season championship: 15 playoff points

Second place in the final regular-season standings earns 10 playoff points, third place receives eight points, and the points awarded decline to one point for 10th (4th = 7 points, 5th = 6 points, etc.).

Championship-contending drivers can accumulate additional playoff points throughout the playoffs via stage and race wins and may use all the playoff points they earn, from both the regular season and the playoffs, to advance all the way up to the Championship 4.

Playoff points are added to a championship-contending driver’s reset points total at the start of every round of the Playoffs until they are eliminated from championship contention.

If a driver accumulates playoff points during the regular season, but does not qualify for the playoffs, their playoff points are eliminated from the scoreboard.

At Homestead-Miami, playoff points are off the table and the Championship 4 drivers enter the “winner-take-all” race on equal ground.

For example: Last year in the Monster Energy Series, Kyle Busch won the regular-season championship (15 playoff points), six races (30 total playoff points) and five stages (five playoff points). Therefore he had 50 playoff points and, when the point totals reset to 2,000 for every playoff driver, he started the postseason with 2,050 points — already 50 points ahead of the 15th and 16th seeds Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman.