It’s relatively simple. NASCAR Cup Series drivers are awarded points across each event based on their finishing performance. Whoever has the points at the end of the season wins the championship.
Well, at least it used to be.
With the implementation of various playoff systems across the last two decades, the driver who amasses the most points across a season doesn’t always wind up as the champion thanks to playoff points resets.
Thus, the season-long battle to be the best driver is quite irrelevant because nearly half of them will end up in the playoffs two-thirds of the way through the season.
Regardless, as we head into the 15th race of the season at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway this weekend, how many of you can name who the current points leader is?
There’s still a little bit of benefit to be the points leader. There’s a little bonus at the end of the regular season, and there are bragging rights on the line too.
Just in case you are wondering, the points leader is Ross Chastain.
What makes this conversation intriguing is not that the points leader is seldom discussed in present-day NASCAR. Rather, it’s the battle to actually be the points leader that is infrequently mentioned.
Chastain currently has amassed 464 points over 14 races. Christopher Bell isn’t far off Chastain’s tally, sitting just below the Trackhouse Racing driver.
A couple of bad stages by Chastain at Gateway this weekend could propel Bell into the points lead before the race is even over.
Oh, by the way, Bell is in sixth place on the points sheet.
This year’s points race is so close that the top six drivers are currently separated by 17 points, with Bell currently sitting on 447 points. A 22nd-place finish by Chastain in the Coca-Cola 600 lost weekend brought race winner Ryan Blaney up to just one point out of the lead.
With three wins in 2023, William Byron is just four points behind Chastain, while veterans Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are just eight and 13 points out, respectively. The points are so close that, mathematically speaking, 10 different drivers could theoretically leave Gateway with the points lead.
To give some context to how close of a season this is, at this time last year, Chase Elliott held a whopping (well, relatively speaking) 34-point advantage over second-place Chastain. A season prior, the first-to-second advantage was 98 points.
The jumble of drivers to be atop the points race would be a very compelling storyline for hardcore and casual fans alike. A week prior, Chastain held a 27-point advantage, but just two weeks before, when the series left Dover Motor Speedway, the advantage was minuscule at just three.
Never in the history of NASCAR have the points standings been this close, yet nobody is talking about it because it is all for naught — all will be erased when the playoffs roll around.
In a world prior to the playoff era, 2023 would easily be in the conversation with 1979, 1989 and 1992 as the most competitive points championship ever.
Instead, we wait for the playoff reset.
About the author
Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.
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