Sunday’s race at Dover was the 13th of 26 regular season races in the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series. With the regular season halfway done, we figured it was a great time to extrapolate out what the 2017 playoff field could look like in NASCAR’s new points format.
The introduction of stage racing and added bonus points has made the playoffs — remember, it’s no longer the Chase — a bit more complicated. Drivers can earn points for the playoffs through race wins and stage wins and bonus points are given for the drivers in the top 10 in points.
The playoffs will be run a bit differently too. The fourth year of NASCAR’s elimination-style playoff system will allow drivers to carry over bonus points through the first three rounds this year. It’s a change designed to reward the drivers who have performed the best through the regular season and give them a cushion to get to the championship race at Homestead.
• Nine drivers have won* through the first 13 races of the year. Drivers with wins are Jimmie Johnson (3), Brad Keselowski (2), Martin Truex Jr. (2), Kyle Larson (1), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (1), Ryan Newman (1), Kurt Busch (1) and Austin Dillon (1). Joey Logano won at Richmond, but his win doesn’t count for playoff bonus points because his car failed inspection after the race.
If the trend continues through the next 13 races, the 16-driver playoff field will consist completely of drivers who have won races and a driver or two with a win could get left out. That’s unlikely, as it seems that drivers like Johnson, Keselowski, Truex and Larson will each get another win or three before the playoffs.
But there are drivers like Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth who haven’t won at all. And Logano seems like a good bet to get a win before the playoffs too. Adding those six drivers to the eight with official wins means 14 drivers would get into the playoffs with wins while the final two spots would be filled by the winless drivers with the most points.
For the purposes of this exercise, we’re not going to guess regarding what drivers get wins over the next 13 races. Since we’re halfway home, we’re simply going to double the current bonus point total of the 16 drivers who would make the Chase. Drivers receive 5 points per race win and 1 point per stage win.
1. Martin Truex Jr. – 18 bonus points: 2 wins, 8 stage wins
2. Jimmie Johnson – 15: 3 wins
3. Brad Keselowski – 12: 2 wins, 2 stage wins
4. Kyle Larson – 7: 1 win, 2 stage wins
5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 5: 1 win
6. Ryan Newman – 5: 1 win
7. Kurt Busch – 5: 1 win
8. Austin Dillon 5: 1 win
9. Kevin Harvick – 3: 3 stage wins
10. Kyle Busch – 3: 3 stage wins
11. Chase Elliott – 2: 2 stage wins
12. Denny Hamlin – 2: 2 stage wins
13. Joey Logano – 1: 1 stage win
14. Matt Kenseth – 1: 1 stage win
15. Jamie McMurray – 0
16. Clint Bowyer – 0
• In addition to the bonus points for stage and race wins, the top 10 drivers in the points standings get bonus points added to their playoff total. Here’s the current top 10 in the points standings and how many bonus points each driver would get if the standings stay the same over the next 13 races. They won’t, of course. But again, we’re simply extrapolating.
1. Martin Truex Jr.: 15 bonus points
2. Kyle Larson: 10
3. Kevin Harvick: 8
4. Kyle Busch: 7
5. Jamie McMurray: 6
6. Jimmie Johnson: 5
7. Brad Keselowski: 4
8. Chase Elliott: 3
9. Denny Hamlin: 2
10. Clint Bowyer: 1
• Now it’s time for some math. We need to double the bonus points of the 16 drivers in the playoffs and then add the top-10 points to that total for the drivers who are in the top 10. That means the playoffs will look roughly like this if past results are an indicator of future performance.
1. Martin Truex Jr.: 51 bonus points
2. Jimmie Johnson: 35
3. Brad Keselowski: 28
4. Kyle Larson: 24
5. Kevin Harvick: 14
6. Kyle Busch: 13
7. Ryan Newman: 10
8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: 10
9. Kurt Busch: 10
10. Austin Dillon: 10
11. Chase Elliott: 7
12. Jamie McMurray: 6
13. Denny Hamlin: 6
14. Joey Logano: 2
15. Matt Kenseth: 2
16. Clint Bowyer: 1
• Drivers can accumulate a maximum of 60 points per race — 20 by finishing first in each of the first two stages and 40 for a race win — so Truex’s hypothetical 50-point advantage over Bowyer is massive.
Will it become a reality? Our guess is it won’t given how cyclical the Cup Series can be. But if Truex can begin the playoffs with 40 or more points on 10 other drivers, he’s going to have a great shot at getting to the Homestead. After having an engine failure in last year’s Chase, Truex missed out on the third round by 18 points. While the points aren’t comparable year-to-year because of the addition of stage points, Truex could have more than enough cushion to make up for a playoff problem.
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