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Stat Sheet: How Much of an Advantage Do Playoff Points Give?

The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoff field is set, and just 10 races separate 15 drivers from a championship trophy at Phoenix Raceway.

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With Saturday’s (Aug. 26) regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway being the first of four points resets, here are the playoff points that each driver has heading into the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway and the Round of 16:

RankDriverPlayoff PointsDeficit
1William Byron36
1Martin Truex Jr.36
3Denny Hamlin25-11
4Chris Buescher21-15
5Kyle Busch19-17
6Kyle Larson17-19
7Christopher Bell14-22
8Ross Chastain11-25
9Brad Keselowski10-26
10Tyler Reddick9-27
11Joey Logano8-28
11Ryan Blaney8-28
13Michael McDowell7-29
14Ricky Stenhouse Jr.5-31
15Kevin Harvick4-32
16Bubba Wallace0-36

Since playoff points were added in 2017 to reward regular season success, winning races, winning stages and finishing high in the regular season standings all pay off in the first 26 races. And while none of the three are an automatic ticket to advance into later rounds, the cushion at the start of each round gives the drivers and teams more room to work with in the event that disaster strikes.

Winning races is an automatic ticket to the next round regardless of points, and while improbable, it is certainly possible for a driver with zero playoff points to point their way through each round and into the Championship 4 (where everyone is equal entering the final race).

But how often has that happened, if ever? Which drivers made the Championship 4 with the fewest amount of playoff points at their disposal, and which drivers failed to make the Championship 4 with the largest amount of playoff points in their bank?

From 2017 on, I’ll keep track of many playoff points the eventual Championship 4 drivers had at each reset along with the highest-seeded driver at the Round of 16 that failed to reach the finale.

2017

DriverRound of 16Round of 12Round of 8Final Standings
Martin Truex Jr.53 (1)59 (1)69 (1)1st
Kyle Busch29 (3)41 (2)42 (2)2nd
Kevin Harvick15 (6)15 (6)17 (4)3rd
Brad Keselowski19 (4)20 (4)26 (3)4th
Kyle Larson33 (2)34 (3)EliminatedN/A

Martin Truex Jr. set the record for the most playoff points anyone had accumulated heading into the Round of 8, and he followed it up with his first championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Larson set the record for the most playoff points (33) entering the Round of 16 of a driver that failed to reach the Round of 8.

2018

DriverRound of 16Round of 12Round of 8Final Standings
Joey Logano14 (6)14 (6)15 (5)1st
Martin Truex Jr.35 (3)38 (3)38 (3)2nd
Kevin Harvick50 (1)50 (2)54 (2)3rd
Kyle Busch50 (1)55 (1)55 (1)4th
Brad Keselowski19 (4)25 (4)EliminatedN/A

Joey Logano set still-standing records for the fewest playoff points at the Round of 8 (15) to win the title and the lowest-seeded driver at the Round of 16 (sixth) to win the Championship. He also became the first of two drivers to reach the Championship 4 after entering the Round of 8 with less than 20 playoff points.

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick marked the first two times that a driver failed to win the championship after accumulating more than 45 playoff points entering the Round of 8.

2019

DriverRound of 16Round of 12Round of 8Final Standings
Kyle Busch45 (1)46 (1)46 (1)1st
Martin Truex Jr.29 (3)41 (2)42 (2)2nd
Kevin Harvick28 (4)28 (5)28 (5)3rd
Denny Hamlin30 (2)30 (3)37 (3)4th
Joey Logano28 (4)29 (4)30 (4)N/A

Busch became the second No. 1 seed to win the title. First of two seasons where all four Championship 4 drivers started the playoffs with top-five seeds.

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2020

DriverRound of 16Round of 12Round of 8Final Standings
Chase Elliott20 (5)21 (5)27 (4)1st
Brad Keselowski29 (3)35 (3)35 (3)2nd
Joey Logano22 (4)22 (4)22 (5)3rd
Denny Hamlin47 (2)48 (2)54 (2)4th
Kevin Harvick57 (1)67 (1)67 (1)N/A

Chase Elliott became the second lowest-seeded driver at the start of the playoffs to win the championship. 2020 became the second season where all four Championship 4 drivers entered the playoffs as top-five seeds.

Harvick became the first (and so far, only) No. 1 seed at the start of the playoffs that failed to reach the Championship 4, and he accumulated the most playoff points of a driver that didn’t make it to the finale.

Harvick and Denny Hamlin marked the third and fourth times that a driver with 45+ playoff points entering the Round of 8 failed to win the title.

2021

DriverRound of 16Round of 12Round of 8Final Standings
Kyle Larson52 (1)59 (1)65 (1)1st
Martin Truex Jr.24 (2)29 (2)29 (3)2nd
Denny Hamlin15 (6)24 (3)30 (2)3rd
Chase Elliott21 (5)21 (6)22 (6)4th
Ryan Blaney24 (2)24 (3)24 (4)N/A

The third time that the No. 1 seed won the championship.

2021 marked the first time that two of the top four seeds at the start of the playoffs failed to reach the Championship 4.

2022

DriverRound of 16Round of 12Round of 8Final Standings
Joey Logano25 (2)25 (2)26 (2)1st
Ross Chastain20 (3)20 (3)21 (3)2nd
Christopher Bell11 (10)13 (6)18 (4)3rd
Chase Elliott40 (1)40 (1)46 (1)4th
Kyle Larson19 (4)19 (4)EliminatedN/A

Christopher Bell became the lowest-seeded driver (10th) at the start of the playoffs to reach the championship 4 and had the fewest playoff points at the Round of 16 (11) to do so.

Elliott’s season marked the fifth time a driver failed to win the title after entering the Round of 8 with 45+ playoff points.

To sum things up,

  • Only once has a driver made the Championship 4 after entering the playoffs below the sixth seed.
  • Only twice has a driver made the Championship 4 after entering the Round of 8 with less than 20 playoff points.
  • The No. 1 seed has reached the Championship 4 in five of the six years and won the championship in three of them.
  • Drivers that entered the postseason with 30+ playoff points reached the Round of 8 on all but one occasion.
  • Drivers that entered the postseason with 30+ playoff points reached the Championship 4 on all but two occasions.
  • Of all the drivers that entered the playoffs as a top 4 seed, at least one of them has failed to make the Championship 4 every year.

While there are no guarantees, past history bodes well for the upper third of the upcoming playoff grid.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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DoninAjax

Talking POINTS again? I thought only wins matter, although now NA$CAR has decided that the winner of the last example of Brian’s product will win the title, and is the only one that really counts.

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