Time to put the pedal to the metal. Playoffs are officially here.
Ten races now stand between NASCAR and its new champion, and here’s how the 16-driver field is going to dwindle over the next three months.
Everyone’s points have been reset to 2,000, but drivers who grabbed playoff points during the regular season will automatically have those added to their total, giving them an advantage from the get-go. Bonus playoff points can still be earned: Five go to race-winning driver; one goes to whoever wins Stage 1 and/or Stage 2.
Regular points are distributed based on finishing spots – first place gets 40 points, seconds gets 35, third gets 34, fourth gets 33 and so on and so forth.
After every three races, the four drivers at the bottom of the standings are eliminated. A win automatically guarantees a driver a spot, though. Points will then be cleared again apart from the playoff ones.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway (the road course) are the first tracks. Round of 12 will consist of races at Dover International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Kansas Speedway. Round of 8 will have Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix Raceway). Last but not least, the Championship 4 will be at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 18.
The finale will be a straight-up race. First championship-eligible driver to cross the finish line wins it all.
Looking back at the regular season, the Big Three of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. dominated. They won 17 of the 26 races.
Those drivers, of course, clinched a berth in the playoffs early on. The other 13 are – in rapid fire and in order of seeding – Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman.
Keselowski and Bowyer are the only two drivers outside of the Big Three who have won more than one race – two each. Blaney, Larson, Hamlin, Almirola, Johnson and Bowman haven’t won any and advanced based on points.
Everyone’s favorite Kyle Busch was named the regular-season champion. He didn’t win the most races – Harvick won one more than Busch with seven – but he did accumulate the most overall points.
Last season, Truex claimed the honor and ultimately ended up winning the grand title at the end of it all.
This is where the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings will be updated each week.
1. Kyle Busch, 2,050 points
2. Kevin Harvick, 2,050 points
3. Martin Truex Jr., 2,035 points
4. Brad Keselowski, 2,019 points
5. Clint Bowyer, 2,015 points
Keselowski did it again.
With two laps remaining in the rain-delayed Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Keselowski passed race leader Hamlin and then, on the final lap, he beat out Jones to the finish line.
“I was able to clear him,” Keselowski said after the race, “and gosh, that was one of the best things I ever heard in my life was clear off of Turn 4 at Brickyard coming to the white flag.”
Keselowski now enters the playoffs with back-to-back trips to victory lane. Remember he was there the week prior at Darlington Raceway, too.
This was his first career victory at the Brickyard. A Ford hadn’t won since 1999.
Jones finished second. Hamlin was third.
Bowyer won Stage 1 but ended in fifth. Matt Kenseth took Stage 2 and left 12th.
Let the playoffs begin. The South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be Sunday at 2 p.m. CT and air on NBCSN.
Johnson, who hasn’t won a race this season, holds the all-time record of four victories at this 1.5-mile track.
Reach Terrin Waack at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.