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June 21, 2024

The Field of 16: Projecting the Cup Series Playoffs entering New Hampshire


Chris Buescher and Bubba Wallace drive at New Hampshire.
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 New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

NOTABLE PROBABILITY SHIFTS POST-IOWA

DriverBefore LoudonEntering NashvilleDifference
Chris Buescher67.32%85.72%+18.40
Ty Gibbs85.47%90.08%+4.61
Bubba Wallace29.21%22.11%-7.10
Alex Bowman86.37%70.11%-16.26
nhms playoff predictor
PROBABILITY CALCULATED BY RACING INSIGHTS AHEAD OF USA TODAY 301, JUNE 23, 2024

DRIVERS SOLIDLY IN PLAYOFF PICTURE

Ten drivers are provisionally locked into the 2024 Cup Series Playoffs, with four of those guaranteed as Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, William Byron and Christopher Bell have all won multiple times this season.

After Larson crashed out early in the final stage at Iowa, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott has assumed the Cup points led by eight points over the 2021 series titleholder.

Elliott, Tyler Reddick, Brad Keselowski, Austin Cindric, Daniel Suárez and most recently, defending champ Ryan Blaney, each have a win in 2024. With four new winners already this year compared to 2023, it’s best to have a good points cushion to the provisional elimination line as Martin Truex Jr. and Ross Chastain have as they sit with 95% or better probabilities of making the 16-driver field.

While both have probabilities below 90%, Alex Bowman and Ty Gibbs have created quite a gap between themselves and the projected bubble with Chris Buescher being 18 percentage points lower than Gibbs in probability. With 10 top 10s already in 2024, Bowman looks increasingly more likely that he will return to the playoffs after missing out in 2023.

LAST 4 IN

Let’s say Bowman and Gibbs will be good for the playoffs at this point. That leaves just two spots to fight for among four drivers who are all capable of deep postseason runs any given year.

Buescher has been on the brink of victory three times this season (Kansas, Darlington, Sonoma) and fell just short in all of them. It feels like the No. 17 RFK Racing team will find pay dirt in the final nine races of the regular season, similar to their summer stretch in 2023 where Buescher collected three race trophies in a six-week span.

As for two-time champion Joey Logano, there’s no telling when or even if the No. 22 Team Penske stable will find Victory Lane in 2024. While they’ve shown speed on short tracks this season, they have yet to have a performance worthy of a win. Since leading 84 laps at Martinsville in early April, Logano has led just 53 laps combined across the last nine races. New Hampshire and Richmond remain key targets to break through in 2024 for Logano (as well as Daytona in August), but time is running out quickly for the team to ensure all three Penske cars will go for the title.

FIRST 4 OUT

Even though he’s currently on the right side of the playoff picture six points above Logano for the 16th spot, Bubba Wallace just hasn’t had any success the last month. Kansas and Charlotte were expected to be big points day and even win opportunities for the No. 23 Toyota team, but Wallace finished outside the top 10 in both events. Following those tracks up with 21st, 20th and 17th-place results in the last three weeks should have 23XI Racing hovering over the panic button.

Another Sunday of bad luck for Kyle Busch at Iowa and based on trends this season, it won’t stop for the No. 8 RCR team. The best Busch can hope for is a clean top-10 result at New Hampshire, which is doable, but Busch has crashed out in three of the last four Loudon events. Sitting 31 points below the playoff elimination line, another DNF will put the team in a must-win situation for the rest of the regular season if they aren’t already in one.

WHO CAN SHAKE UP PLAYOFF PICTURE AT NEW HAMPSHIRE?

I’d like to say Wallace, given his consecutive top 10s in the Next Gen era at New Hampshire, but I’ll take a big swing for this weekend and put the idea of Justin Haley winning in your head. The No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Ford has been bad fast recently with ninth-place runs at Darlington and Gateway. Haley showed top-10 pace at Iowa as well. The smaller and slower the track, the better it seems the No. 51 is so if the cards align, there’s an outside chance Haley can shock the NASCAR universe for the second time in his career.

MORE: Racing Insights predicts Loudon | 2024 Cup Series schedule

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

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