NASCAR Post-Season Playoffs Explained

The 74th NASCAR Cup Series racing year kicked off last February and over the last 8 months drivers have had only a single weekend off. For the 16 drivers who qualified for the playoff, there will be up to 10 race weekends still to come.
NASCAR Playoff 7 photos
As with many other sports, it is not enough to own the season and finish on top in NASCAR. The racing organization implemented a playoff format in 2014 that begins the weekend following the last race of the regular season. This year, the final race on August 28th at Daytona decided the final two drivers to qualify for the playoffs. Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney landed the final spots with the opportunity to earn a championship beginning September 4th at Darlington.

There will be three 3-race rounds followed by a single championship race. It is a bit of a wacky format that goes like this:

The first three races in the Round of 16 will held at Darlington Raceway, Kansas Raceway, and Bristol Motor Speedway. Point totals will be reset to 2,000 for each driver with their playoff points added in ahead of the round. The race winners automatically advance to the next round, while the four lowest point drivers who have not won in the round will be eliminated.

The Round of 12 will then see point totals reset to 3,000 with playoff points added in before the first race at Texas Motor Speedway. Talladega Super Speedway will host the second race in the three-race round followed by Charlotte Motor Speedway. Once again, the four drivers with the lowest point totals who have not won in the round, are eliminated while the winners move on to the Round of 8.

NASCAR Playoff
The Round of 8 begins with points reset to 4,000 with playoff points added in before races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, and Martinsville. The four drivers who have not won in the round with the lowest point totals will be eliminated, leaving four drivers to compete in the Championship 4.

The final Championship 4 race in Phoenix will begin with driver points set at 5,000 with no playoff or stage points added in. The championship will go to the highest finishing driver.

How points are awarded; all NASCAR Cup Series races are divided into three stages (with the exception of the Coca-Cola 600 that is a 4-stage race). The top ten drivers at the end of Stage 1 and/or 2 are awarded points based on the running order. The leader earns ten points with second place getting nine points and points continue in descending order down to one point for running tenth.

Those stage points are added to the final points earned at the conclusion of the race (Stage 3). Race winners are awarded 40 points with points decreasing to the last place driver who earns one point.

Additionally, five playoff points are added to the race winner and one point is awarded to a driver who wins Stage 1 and/or 2 in every event.

The playoff does present an interesting twist with the field being whittled down as the rounds progress. The racing is quite exciting given the risk drivers bear by facing elimination. Because points accumulate over the course of the season, those near the top have a bit less stress when it comes to finishing in the bottom four. That being said, they are still racing at speeds over 200 mph (322 kph) and anything can happen in a hurry, especially given the tendency for these guys to play bumper cars to gain an edge.

You can see the drivers who made the NASCAR postseason and a visual of the format in the cover story photograph.
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