NASCAR Cup Series playoffs – Who’s in? Who’s out? And who’s able to win all of it?

Welcome to the NASCAR playoffs!

Useful trace: Do not name it the Chase. And do not dare name it the Playoff, singular. That is what they do over in school soccer, the place solely 4 groups are within the School Soccer Playoff area. Right here in inventory automobile nation, there are 16 groups within the title combat, however like CFP and bowl season, these 16 groups share their postseason stage with a bunch of different groups which might be competing for wins, however not for the championship.

Confused? You are not alone. However that is why we’re right here. To reply your inventory automobile queries, irrespective of if you happen to’ve been watching NASCAR since Richard Petty was battling Bobby Allison or if you do not know the distinction between Chase Elliott and Chase Briscoe.

How does NASCAR’s postseason work? Who’s in? Who’s out (but additionally nonetheless out on the monitor)? How did we get right here? The place are we going? Who’s probably to be standing in Victory Lane hoisting that very giant Cup Series trophy 10 weeks from now? Seize a grease pencil and browse forward.

How’d we get right here?

On the conclusion of what was simply the wackiest 26-race “regular season” since NASCAR’s so-called “Elimination Era” started in 2014, a whopping 15 of the 16 drivers who made the reduce additionally gained a race, and it might have been all 16 had Kansas Speedway winner Kurt Busch not been sidelined in late July by an ongoing bout with concussion-like signs.

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The ultimate open spot went to winless Ryan Blaney, who edged former Cup Series champ Martin Truex Jr. by a scant three factors, however solely as a result of Austin Dillon was in a position to snake his means by a huge Huge One crash at Daytona and went on to win the race by all of .128 seconds over a pair of men who had already gained a race this season. Had they gained, Truex can be within the Playoff, too; or if Truex, who completed eighth, had managed to get by a few automobiles forward of him, he can be and Blaney can be out. That is how shut it was.

This season is barely the third in NASCAR’s practically 75-year historical past that there have been 16 totally different winners over the yr’s first 26 races. The gold customary for aggressive seasons within the trendy period continues to be 2001, when 19 drivers gained over 36 races. Contemplating that we have already had 5 first-time winners this yr, Blaney and Truex are nonetheless winless, and one other handful of drivers have had shut calls however got here up brief (Bubba Wallace, second in Daytona 500; Chris Buescher, second at Sonoma; Corey Lajoie’s battle with Elliott at Atlanta, and so on.) there’s nonetheless an opportunity to match or maybe smash that mark.

Who’s in?

The brand new, reset NASCAR playoff standings:

In the event you’re scoring at dwelling — and we’re — that is 5 former Cup Series champions, just one former multiple-time champ, together with 4 playoffs rookies and one true rookie in Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric. As for the automobile producers, Chevy leads the way in which with eight entries, adopted by Ford (5) and Toyota (3).

What occurs now?

The subsequent 10 races will remove 4 racers each three weeks. If a driver wins a type of three, he robotically strikes on to the following spherical. The remaining spots are decided by the factors standings.

That is 16 drivers contending within the first three races, 12 remaining within the subsequent three, 9 sustaining title hopes within the subsequent three, and 4 drivers contesting the championship on the season finale at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 6. The highest finisher of these 4 is your NASCAR Cup Series champion. Straightforward-peasy, proper? Except you are a type of 4.

“You think it’s going to be the same, just take care of your business and race and move on, right?” stated Joey Logano, who has made it into that closing quartet 4 occasions. “But there is a definite sense of increasing pressure. We have made it into the finale feeling like the favorites and we’ve made it feeling like the underdog. All I know is that, however you got there, when that green flag comes out and there is 300-something laps to race for everything, for the entire season, it’s like, ‘Holy cow, this is real right now!'”

The spherical of 16 begins this weekend with NASCAR’s oldest and most grueling speedway occasion, the venerable Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, a race and place that has been on the Cup Series calendar since its second-ever season in 1950. The elimination races for every Playoffs spherical are equally difficult. The Bristol evening race marks the top of the spherical of 16, the Charlotte Roval closes out the spherical of 12, and the flat half-mile bullring Martinsville Speedway, the final monitor remaining from NASCAR’s first season of 1949, will decide which 4 will compete for the Cup the next weekend.

Spherical of 16
Darlington Raceway
Kansas Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway

Spherical of 12
Texas Motor Speedway
Talladega Superspeedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval

Spherical of 9
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Homestead-Miami Speedway
Martinsville Speedway

Championship Race (Spherical of 4)
Phoenix Raceway

Who’re the favorites and who’s doomed?

The excellent news for Dillon is that his dramatic sprint into the playoffs was the stuff of film scripts. Identical for Cindric and his fellow first-time winners. The unhealthy information is that because the Elimination Period started in 2014, those that barely make the sector additionally usually make early exits, and even when they maintain off elimination for some time, they do not make the final 4 at season’s finish. Within the eight earlier editions of this format, the deepest a driver has began the playoffs and gone on to win the title is seventh, completed by Kevin Harvick in 2014 and Logano 4 years later. In the meantime, 4 of the eight champs began the postseason proper the place they ended it, within the prime spot.

With that in thoughts, it is laborious to guess in opposition to Elliott, who has by some means managed to show this 2022 of near-historic parity and unpredictability right into a little bit of a rout, profitable the common season title by a Snake River Canyon-like margin of 130 factors over Logano.

The smart guys agree with that evaluation. Headed into the playoffs, BetMGM has Elliott listed because the title favourite at 3-1, precisely the place it had him when the inexperienced flag waved over the Daytona 500. It has Kyle Larson at 7-1 and Denny Hamlin 8-1. Not surprisingly, these behind the desk within the desert worth age and expertise, as future corridor of famers who’ve struggled by massive stretches of this season, like Kyle Busch, Logano and Harvick, are all among the many prime eight favorites at 12-1 and higher.

There’s one playoffs crasher whom the sportsbooks love now, even when they did not again in February. Congrats to anybody who put a paycheck down on Ross Chastain in February. Again then, the Watermelon Man was listed at 150-1 to carry the Cup this fall. Now he is 8-1, fourth finest amongst these within the playoffs.

“I think experience matters, heck, I know so,” explains 2021 champ Larson. “To me, the first time you are in a playoffs situation, it’s like the first time you go to a racetrack you’ve never been before. You need time to get your bearings. Once you do, once you know what to expect, the next time you come back you are more comfortable. You think it’s going to just be, ‘Hey, let’s race and don’t worry about it.’ But it is different. It’s also fun. I’m ready to go.”