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April 19, 2024

The Field of 16: Projecting the Cup Series Playoffs entering Talladega

A general view of racing at Talladega Superspeedway.
Meg Oliphant
Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Racing Insights’ playoff projections use a combination of current standings and historical performance at upcoming tracks to determine the probability of each driver winning or making the playoffs on points.

With the Cup Series Playoffs on the mind throughout the season, what if there was a way to project how the 16-driver field could look before each race weekend?

It now exists via Racing Insights. From now until the start of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, ‘The Field of 16’ will give fans a weekly look at where their favorite drivers could potentially land in the postseason field – and the likelihood of having a shot at the Bill France Cup.

Here’s this week’s update on the projections heading into Talladega.
Talladega Playoff Predictor


With multiple wins in 2024 already, William Byron and Denny Hamlin are safely into the Cup playoffs with 100% probability. Both drivers now have their eyes set on the regular-season title and the 15 bonus playoff points that come with it. Hamlin currently sits third in the Cup standings, 28 points behind Kyle Larson for the top of the table. Byron is 38 points behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammates in fifth.


There’s another shakeup to the playoffs compared to last year as Chase Elliott returns to the postseason following his Texas victory. With Elliott and Daniel Suárez winning in 2024, that will leave at least two drivers out from last year’s field.

Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell also locked in provisional spots after their respective wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway. Larson currently stands as the points leader and would be the regular-season champ with the extra 15 playoff-point allotment in the bank.

On points alone, and with a rich history of good performances, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney sit in healthy spots a quarter of the way through the season and have favorable tracks coming up at Talladega Superspeedway and Dover Motor Speedway.


Here’s where the Suárez and Elliott victories are really going to make this fight for the final playoff spots interesting.

Currently, three Cup champs sit among Racing Insights’ projected Last 4 In, with Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch all barely on the right side of the bubble. Last season, only Ty Gibbs missed the playoffs among this group, but he’s off to a hot start in 2024, sitting sixth in points.

The driver that should be hovering over the panic button is Busch. While he’s the defending winner of the spring Talladega event, he only has three top 10s and a single top five nine races into the season. Coming up short to Suárez by just 0.007 seconds at Atlanta Motor Speedway could loom large for Busch’s playoff hopes if the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing team doesn’t turn its season around soon.


Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a 2023 playoff driver, is well outside the playoff picture at the moment, but the surprise could be Michael McDowell getting left out, with a probability under 20% according to Racing Insights. Still, with a good chunk of road courses on the regular-season slate, there’s plenty of opportunity for the No. 34 driver to return to Victory Lane.

Then, there’s Alex Bowman. After missing the playoffs last year, 2024 is a big year for the Arizonan, and he’s been on a bit of a hot streak over the last month with three top 10s in the last four races before crashing out last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. However, with the depth of the Cup field and as strong as Gibbs has been to start the year, it will be a challenge to see the No. 48 make the postseason without grabbing a checkered flag.


The correct answer is anybody eligible for the postseason.

From Truex to Zane Smith, every playoff-eligible driver will have a shot to take a playoff bid Sunday at Talladega (3 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

MORE: Racing Insights predicts Talladega | 2024 Cup Series schedule

Bubba Wallace and both Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing drivers in Chris Buescher and Keselowski jump out as those likely to be next to punch their tickets to the 16-driver dance. Others will say Blaney, but don’t think the defending champion qualifies as a true “playoff shakeup.” If you want a long shot for the weekend, Todd Gilliland was strong at both Daytona and Atlanta before getting collected in wrecks. If both Front Row Motorsports Fords have speed, look out.

Before each race weekend, check back into The Field of 16 to see the latest projections of the 2024 Cup Series playoff field.