Race Weekend Central

Dropping the Hammer: The Cup Playoff Fan Survival Guide


The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are here!

Hopefully, you’re basking in the knowledge that your preferred driver/organization/manufacturer/sponsor, or former NBA star-turned-team-owner, has a shot at the NASCAR title.

You should be excited!

Only 16 teams get a shot at the Cup over the next 10 weeks and you backed one of the right horses.

Some of you are experiencing this playoff feeling for the first time.

Relish it, brag a little bit.

Treat yourself to a brand new coozie for your favorite driver.

You need something to place your emotional support beer in for as long as your guy’s in the hunt.

Just remember, you deserve to enjoy this moment.

Especially since you’re not guaranteed to experience this feeling ever again.

Some you may be Kevin Harvick fans.

It’s a bittersweet time for you.

In 10 weeks, for better or worse, Harvick will ride into the sunset to end a Hall of Fame career.

It wasn’t a flashy regular season for you. No wins, a couple close calls.

But you’re here.

However, with only four playoff points, the first round may be an emotional doozy.

We recommend a bottle of Pepto-Bismol for those times when looking at the “As They Run” graphic on TV makes you feel a little nauseous.

Some of you are familiar to this whole playoff routine.

But maybe it’s been a while, you’re a little rusty and not quite sure what to do with your hands.

For example, you may be a loyal RFK Racing fan. This is the first time you’ve had a car in the playoffs since 2019.

Heck, it’s the first time you’ve placed two cars in postseason since 2014, the first year of the elimination format. Back then each round had a weird name like “Challenger,” “Contender” or “Eliminator.”

It was totally useful and not at all hard to keep track of.

After a long time in the wilderness, things are looking up for you.

But since it’s been so long, we suggest keeping a chart nearby at all times to remind you what the playoff format is and what each round is called.

You start with 16 drivers and, after three races, subtract the four with the fewest points.

Repeat twice.

Just remember, everyone. Go out there and have a good time.

It’ll be over before you know it.

Non-playoff driver motivational guide (2023 revisions in bold)

Hey there, kiddo.

*pulls up chair*

I get it, we’ve all been there.

You devoted 26 weeks, not including the off week and the All-Star Race, hoping, praying and wearing that lucky shirt you got during Speedweeks 2010. Yeah, the one with the stain of unknown origin on the right sleeve.

But, alas, here you are.

Your preferred driver/organization/sponsor/most popular driver award recipient didn’t make the playoffs.

It’s a very confusing period for you.

For the next 10 weekends, Sundays (and one Saturday) just won’t have the same feeling.

Sure, the Southern 500 is one of the best races of the year.

Yes, few events rival the vibe offered by the Bristol Night Race.

But, without a chance to fight for the championship, you don’t think you can muster up the enthusiasm to watch.

You may feel like throwing in the towel on the season.

Why watch the playoffs when you can go watch your favorite NFL team instead?

Hey, I’m here to remind you that NFL games don’t really matter until November.

Your chosen driver can still have a say in things. They can gum up the works for those pesky playoff drivers.

Remember: just a year ago, all three races in the first round were won by non-playoff drivers and even one who was only competing for the owners’ championship.

If they could do it, whose say it can’t happen again?

2023 is Daniel McFadin’s 10th year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his third year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can be found at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and SpeedSport.com. 

The podcast version of “Dropping the Hammer” is presented by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Kevin in SoCal

Before the playoffs, at this point in the season about 5 drivers had a mathematical shot at the championship anyway.


ha ha ha, stress? Nope not feeling stressed about Nascar’s stupid playoffs at all. This format has been a joke.

Bill B

I haven’t been stressed about a NASCAR race since Jeff Gordon retired. The crapshoot nature of every aspect of the sport has made me feel that it’s futile to care about any of it and therefore, once he retired, I refused to pick another.


Hockey season can’t start soon enough.

Steve C

Most of the factual comments on this article were taken down. The scribe must have gotten his feelings hurt.

Share via