With the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series well behind and fans eagerly anticipating the start of the 2023 season in February, the off-season brings us the perfect opportunity to look into the sport's current format. Often touted as complex for the uninitiated, the highest echelon in stock car racing aims to increase the show for its fans by trying to create as many opportunities for hard, close racing as possible.
A full season of the sport is divided into two major portions, the regular season, followed by the playoffs. Both seasons crown a champion, however, the final bragging rights rest with the ultimate champion crowned at the end of the playoffs and not the regular season champion.
The NASCAR playoffs system operates in a unique fashion, unlike any other genre of motorsports. Here's a guide for new fans to grasp how the format works, and a refresher if you're already well-versed in the intricacies of modern-day NASCAR.
Drivers qualify for the playoffs based on playoff points gathered over the regular season, which can be obtained by winning races. Out of the 16 available playoff spots, 15 drivers won races last season to seal their playoff spots. The 16th driver qualified based on points alone, which can also be earned by winning stages. The complete breakdown is as follows:
- Winning a race: 5 points
- Winning a stage: 1 point
- Regular season champion: 15 points
- Second-place regular season: 10 points
- Third-place regular season: 8 points
Drivers earn bonus playoff points throughout the season if they lead a certain number of laps, amongst various other goals. At the end of the regular season, 2000 points are added to each driver's total.
How does the post-regular season NASCAR playoffs format work?
After the regular season comes to an end and crowns the regular season champion, 16 drivers compete over four rounds in the post-season playoffs. Each round eliminates four drivers from Championship 4, which is the final round of the playoffs.
The other three rounds are as follows:
- Round of 16
- Round of 12
- Round of 8
- Championship 4
Drivers can advance to the next playoff round by either winning one out of three races from each round or by having enough points gathered by the end of the third race of a particular round. These points are handed out in addition to the regular season points, so a good start to the season and a slow one can mean the difference when it comes to the championship.
The final race, also called the Championship 4 race, decides the ultimate winner by whoever finishes furthest out of the four qualifying drivers. Watch drivers gear up for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season as they prepare to go racing exhibition-style at the LA Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash.