NASCAR Playoffs 101: How the final two playoff spots will be determined at Daytona

Ryan Blaney gives high-fives to fans
Sean Gardner
Getty Images

Editor’s note: This year’s playoff field will be spotlighted in USA Network’s new unscripted series “Race for the Championship” airing this fall. The first episode is Thursday, Sept. 1, at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Watch the trailer here.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Thursday’s news that 23XI Racing has withdrawn its request for Kurt Busch to receive a medical waiver for the postseason.

Two spots remain in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs field, and the hope for most of the drivers not already locked in is simple: Win.

In what has been likely the most unpredictable regular season in the history of NASCAR’s playoff era, only Daytona remains before the 16-driver playoff field is set. And despite 15 Cup Series winners so far this season, there are two playoff spots up for grabs, not just one. All of which makes Sunday’s regular-season finale (10 a.m. ET, CNBC, Peacock, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) as high-stakes as it gets.

Kurt Busch won earlier this year, but 23XI Racing announced Thursday that the veteran driver will miss the start of the playoffs as he recovers from concussion-like symptoms. As a result, the team is withdrawing its request for a medical waiver, which is what Busch needed to keep his playoff spot.

With two playoff spots available, here’s everything you need to know about how the field will be set on Sunday.

RELATED: Current Playoff outlook

Drivers who have won this year

These 14 drivers have all locked into the playoff field by virtue of wins: Chase Elliott (4 wins), Kyle Larson (2), Ross Chastain (2), Joey Logano (2), William Byron (2), Kevin Harvick (2), Denny Hamlin (2), Tyler Reddick (2), Christopher Bell (1), Chase Briscoe (1), Kyle Busch (1), Daniel Suárez (1), Austin Cindric (1) and Alex Bowman (1). Kurt Busch has also won once, but is not eligible for the postseason due to missing multiple races (five so far) for medical reasons.

Scenario: No new winner at Daytona

If there is not a new winner at Daytona, then the final two spots will go to Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney and Joe Gibbs Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. There are no other drivers who can advance to the postseason by points.


Scenario: A new winner at Daytona

If a driver notches his first Cup Series win of the season at Daytona, then he locks into the playoffs provided the rest of the criteria is met – that he is ranked 30th or better in the regular-season standings and has attempted to start all 26 Cup Series regular-season races.

If there’s a new winner at Daytona that fits those qualifications, that winner would get one of the two remaining playoff spots. The final entrant would be either Blaney or Truex Jr. based on points (provided one of these two drivers isn’t the new winner in this scenario).

Blaney sits 25 points ahead of Truex with one race to go.

Scenario: Tied in points

As noted above, if there is a new winner at Daytona outside of Blaney and Truex Jr., then either Blaney or Truex Jr. will claim the final postseason spot via points. But what if the two tie in the regular-season standings?

Then we’d go to the tiebreaker, which is best finish in the regular season.

Heading into Daytona, Ryan Blaney holds the tiebreaker in this scenario. His third-place finish at Nashville Superspeedway is his best of the year, which is better than Truex’s best finish of fourth place.

However, if the two drivers finish in a points tie for the final spot and Martin Truex Jr. finishes second at Daytona, then that finish would be his best of the season and earn him the tiebreaker over Blaney.

If Truex Jr. finishes in third place, though, it won’t be enough in a tiebreaking scenario. Because the two drivers would have the same best finish of third, we’d go to the next best finish. Blaney would have four fourth-place finishes to fall back on as opposed to just two for Truex.