NASCAR Playoff Rules, explained

NASCAR changed its Chase — er, playoffs — format again this year, so don’t feel bad if you’re not an expert on the all the rules yet.

Some of you might be embarrassed to ask questions on Twitter or admit you don’t understand what can be a confusing system. If so, that’s OK! Hopefully this will help.

Here’s a quick primer on the playoff format this year:

Overall, the format hasn’t changed much. Just like the previous two seasons, there are three rounds and a championship race. Four drivers are eliminated after each round, so the playoff field will be whittled from 16 to 12 to eight to four over the course of the first nine weeks.

— In another carryover from the previous format, a race win by a playoff driver will advance that driver into the next round. Even though “playoff points” have been a big talking point this year, it’s still win-and-in for each round. Then the remaining spots will be filled by non-winners based on points.

— Speaking of playoff points, those represent the biggest and most important change from the previous system. Drivers collected playoff points all season (one point for a stage win and five points for a race win, plus bonus points based on finishing in the top 10 of the regular season standings). Now that the playoffs have begun, drivers will start each round with that amount of points as long as they’re still in the competition.

Let’s pause to take a quick look at how many points each driver has heading into Chicago:

  1. Martin Truex Jr. — 53
  2. Kyle Larson — 33
  3. Kyle Busch — 29
  4. Brad Keselowski — 19
  5. Jimmie Johnson — 17
  6. Kevin Harvick — 15
  7. Denny Hamlin — 13
  8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — 10
  9. Ryan Blaney — 8
  10. Chase Elliott — 6
  11. Ryan Newman — 5
  12. Kurt Busch — 5
  13. Kasey Kahne — 5
  14. Austin Dillon — 5
  15. Matt Kenseth — 5
  16. Jamie McMurray — 3

— It’s important to remember drivers can continue to add to their playoff points in each round. So if Truex wins two stages at Chicagoland, he will start Round 2 with 55 points instead of 53. It doesn’t matter whether he “uses them up” or not; they will be there to start the round if he’s still in the playoffs.

— Of course, the rules for the championship race at Homestead are different. That race is still a winner-take-all, no-points event for the final four drivers. Yeah, there will still be stages at Homestead, but they don’t matter for the final four drivers (they’re just for drivers still battling for fifth in the point standings). So even though Truex has a ton of playoff points, that won’t matter in the final race. It might help him get there, but it won’t help him win the title.

— A question I’ve seen a lot on Twitter this week is what happens if a race winner — or the champion — has an encumbered finish in an elimination race? Technically, NASCAR would have to change the outcome of the round (somewhat likely) or the championship (very unlikely). NASCAR would disagree with this, but if the championship car was found to be illegal several days later, I don’t think we’d ever hear about it. Officials do not want to strip the title and award it to someone else days after the race has already concluded.

7 Replies to “NASCAR Playoff Rules, explained”

  1. I thought I read somewhere (probably Reddit) that the final 8 submit Homestead cars for NASCAR to inspect well before the race to make sure they’re legal…

  2. Next assignment… try making sense of all that to someone that has never seen a race. You’ll lose their attention by the third paragraph.
    Yes, I’m old… very old by most standards, and especially the standards of social media it seems, but I know my racing and I know thousands of race fans… many of whom no longer care one whit about whatever it has evolved into today.
    There was a time when racing was simple. He… or she… that reaches the checkers first wins. No do-overs; no restarts; no nothing. A 500-mile race ends at 500 miles. Cautions are only for problems on track.
    Sure, some races were better than others, and some cars or drivers or both were better than others. That’s life. Parity is for synchronized swimming. In racing, if the other guy is faster, find out why and get faster than he is.
    The constant search for a “game-7 moment” to end every race is just insanity and is destroying a perfectly good sport by piling rules on top of gimmicks on top of rules on top of… you get it.
    Nope, I’m not bitter and I still watch… sometimes. I just know from long experience what racing can be, and what we see today isn’t even close.

    1. PattyKay is 1000% correct.

      I cannot get any of my grand sons interested in NASCAR, mostly due to what she wrote about.

  3. Who stupidly thought the Latford system was complicated? I have NO interest in trying to keep track of all that sh**. As little as I thought I card about the ‘chase’, this makes it look good. I have crowned my champion. Congrats Truex, well earned.

  4. I have watched nascar for the beginning of stock cars were stock ( 47 years).
    Nascar had Buicks Pontiac Olds Chevy Ford’s Dodge and Merc’s. Before THAT they had Ramblers and Hornets. That’s far enough back for now. My point is each generation had their studs and dominate car. Each had their Rules for good or bad so the bottom line is i root for my team and drivers let Nascar worry about the fudgers and i know who the Champ is at the end of the season, so be it if i like it or not.????????????????????????

  5. When NASCAR decided it needed to compete on the same stage with the NFL and NBA it got lost in what made it attractive. Just winning became we need a playoff system, we need sanctions so everyone plays by the same rules. Not every team in football gets a Brady or a King James in basketball. What made NASCAR attractive, the cheating, the grandstanding, the creative go-fast ideas–all regulated out, leaving a bland long afternoon of follow the leader where luck has a lot to do do with where teams end up. What a shame. The skill of the driver, pit crew member, crew chief, engineer, engine builder has become so restricted that now there is so little room to play the game, why even show up? Is it to show my owner’s ego and pocket book is bigger than others? No wonder manufacturer’s want little to do with it. And fans will continue to leave since it is now a series of re-runs over and over. After all what’s new has also been sanctioned out. And what was, left the stands and the grid long ago. Just go to the Hall of fame and remember when. Then look around, there are no new young faces, no future. This sport has lost its way. Remember when board track racing attracted thousands across America? NASCAR is also headed down that road. You might as well add Indianapolis in there too.

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