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2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs field and format explained

As we prepare for NASCAR’s big event, it’s important to understand just how it all works on the way to crowing a new champion.

2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs field and format explained
Meg OliphantAFP

With the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs upon us, we take a look at how it all works, how you qualify and how you score points. Join us, as we break it all down!

The Basics about the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs

With a field that consists of 16 drivers, The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is where things start to get really serious. Interestingly, the regular season points leader qualifies automatically even if they don’t have a win. Where the remaining 15 drivers are concerned, they all qualify by winning races, though it must be said there can’t be any more than 16 winners across the first 26 races. It should also be noted, that playoff spots can be clinched based on points standings if there aren’t enough winners.

There are of course 4 playoff rounds: Round of 16: Darlington, Richmond, Bristol; Round of 12: Las Vegas, Talladega, Charlotte; Round of 8: Kansas, Texas, Martinsville and the Championship race at Phoenix. A win in any playoff race automatically qualifies the driver for the next round, while the bottom four drivers at the end of each round are eliminated. Understandably, the highest finisher at Homestead is crowned as the champion.

What’s the structure of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs?

So, you’re wondering how it all works? Don’t worry we’ve got you covered. As mentioned above, four drivers are eliminated after each round. Naturally, by the time we get to the third playoff race, there are 12 drivers. Similarly, After the sixth playoff race, the field drops to eight drivers, and following the ninth playoff race, just four drivers remain in contention for the championship contention. This is how it all looks:

  • Round of 16: The first round (races 27-29) is the Round of 16. Any playoff driver who wins a race in this round is automatically advanced to the next round (Round of 12). The remaining available positions 1-12 that have not been filled based upon wins will be based on points. Each driver then has their points reset to 3,000, with any awarded playoff points added.
  • Round of 12: The second round (races 30-32) is the Round of 12. Likewise, if a driver in the top 12 in points wins a race in this round, the driver automatically advances to the next round (Round of 8). The remaining available positions 1-8 that have not been filled based upon wins will be based on points. At this point, points are reset to 4,000, with any awarded playoff points added.
  • Round of 8: The third round (races 33-35) is the Round of 8. By now you’ve guessed it. Should a driver in the top eight in points win a race in this round, the driver is once again automatically advances to the next round (Championship 4). The remaining available positions 1-4 that have not been filled based upon wins will be based on points and they will have their points reset to 5,000.
  • Additionally, drivers who are eliminated in the Round of 12 and Round of 8 will have their points readjusted. What’s that mean? Each eliminated driver returns to the playoff-start base of 2,000 with any awarded playoff points and any accumulated points starting with race No. 27 added. This of course, gives those who are not still vying for the title the opportunity to continue racing in the hope of finishing with the best possible standing on the season. That’s because final positions fifth-through-16th are obviously still available.

How does one qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs?

To be clear, the top 15 drivers who have most wins across the first 26 races qualify for the playoffs. This of course, is assuming that they have finished in the top 30 in points and attempted to qualify for every race. The 16th playoff position - as mentioned above - is awarded to the overall points leader after the 26th race in the event that he or she does not have a win. In the event that there are 16 or more individual winners over the 26 races, the only winless driver who can earn a playoff spot is understandably the overall points leader.

If on the other hand, there are less than 16 different winners in the first 26 races, all remaining playoff spots are awarded to the winless drivers who have the highest number of points. Conversely, if there are more than 16 winners in the first 26 races, ties are broken first by the number of wins and then number of points.

How do NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Points work?

When it comes to the points system of the playoffs, it’s pretty straight forward. For starters, aside from points given to drivers based on their finish at the end of stages and the race itself, the winner of a race stage is awarded one playoff point, while the race winner receives 5 playoff points. When the regular season is completed, the points leader is given 15 playoff points, the second placed driver receives 10 playoff points, 3rd place 8, 4th place 7, 6th place 5, 7th place 4; 8th place 3, 9th place 2, and 10th place 1 playoff point.

You will recall from above, that each driver sees their points reset to 2000, however, the total number of playoff points which they have accumulated are also added to their total. It should be noted, that playoff points are also awarded during each round of the playoffs. That’s to say, at the start of each following round, the points are again reset (3000, 4000, and 5000) among eligible drivers and playoff points are added to that amount, with the exception of the Championship race itself at Homestead, Miami. Where the Championship Race is concerned, the final four drivers start with 5000 points each and earn no bonus points. In the end, the first placed finished is the Champion.


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