NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Set to Start at Darlington

Round One of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs begins at Darlington and ends at Bristol where four drivers will be eliminated. Everything you need to know from now to the Finals at Phoenix

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Darlington Raceway, Darlington, SC — September 4, 2022

The Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway is set to run Sunday evening September 4, at 6:00 pm. The event will open the 2022 Cup Series NASCAR Playoffs. Of the 36 drivers who will line up for the start of the race, 16 will be looking to take their first step towards the ultimate championship in the sport of stock car racing.

Darlington Raceway / Lasco Press Photo

Who is the favorite, who is really going to win, how do the playoffs work, plus, what and when are elimination races? Read on! Everything you need to need to know to follow the run for the coveted Bill France Cup follows.

The Bill France Cup / NASCAR Photo

Quick Rundown: NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs

The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs format is competed over the final 10 races of the year and includes 16 drivers and four rounds – the Round of 16, the Round of 12, the Round of 8, and the Championship 4.

  • A victory in the first 26 races all but guarantees a berth in the 10-race Playoffs.
  • The number of Playoff drivers in contention for the championship will decrease after every three Playoff races, from 16 to start; 12 after race No. 3; eight after race No. 6; and four after race No. 9.
  • The first three races (27-29) will be known as the Round of 16; races 30-32 will be known as the Round of 12; races 33-35 will be Round of 8; and race No. 36 will be the Championship 4 Round.
  • A win by a championship-eligible driver in any Playoff race automatically clinches the winning driver a spot in the next Playoff round.
  • Four drivers will enter the Championship Race with a chance at the title, with the highest finisher among those four capturing the prestigious NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Who is Eligible to Compete in the Playoffs

  • The top 15 drivers with the most wins over the first 26 races will earn a spot in the Playoffs – provided they have finished in the top 30 in points and attempted to qualify for every race (except in rare instances).
  • The 16th Playoff position will go to the points leader after race No. 26 if he/she does not have a victory. (In 2022 that was Chase Elliott and he had four victories.) In the event that there are 16 or more different winners over 26 races, the only winless driver who can earn a Playoff spot would be the points leader after 26 races.
  • If there are fewer than 16 different winners in the first 26 races, the remaining Playoff positions will go to those winless drivers highest in points. (In 2022 that was Ryan Blaney who scored three more points than Martin Truex Jr.) If there are 16 or more winners in the first 26 races, the ties will first be broken by the number of wins, followed by points.
  • Prior to the start of the Playoffs, all Playoff drivers will have their points adjusted to 2,000, with all Playoff points added to their total. Those Playoff points will stay with the driver as long as he/she remains in the Playoffs (except for the Championship 4 Round race).

Who’s In and How Do They Rank

Here are the 16 drivers and how they rank heading into the first race of the opening round.

NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings Entering Round One
Rank Driver Points Race Wins Stage Wins Playoff Pts Pts From Cutoff
1 Chase Elliott 2,040 4 5 40 33
2 Joey Logano* 2,025 2 5 25 18
3 Ross Chastain 2,020 2 5 20 13
4 Kyle Larson 2,019 2 3 19 12
5 William Byron 2,014 2 3 14 7
6 Denny Hamlin 2,013 2 3 13 6
7 Ryan Blaney* 2,013 0 5 13 6
8 Tyler Reddick 2,012 2 2 12 5
9 Kevin Harvick* 2,012 2 0 12 5
10 Christopher Bell 2,011 1 2 11 4
11 Kyle Busch 2,010 1 2 10 3
12 Chase Briscoe* 2,009 1 4 9 2
13 Daniel Suarez 2,007 1 2 7 -2
14 Austin Cindric* 2,006 1 1 6 -3
15 Alex Bowman 2,006 1 1 6 -3
16 Austin Dillon 2,005 1 0 5 -4

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Elimination Races

The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs are an elimination-style format that is broken up into four rounds. After the third Playoff race, there will be 12 drivers remaining as four are eliminated. After the sixth Playoff race, the field will drop to eight drivers with four more drivers eliminated, and following the ninth Playoff race, only four drivers will remain in championship contention. Elimination races.

  • Round of 16: The first round (races 27-29 at Darlington, Kansas, Bristol) is the Round of 16. If a Playoff driver wins a race in this round, the driver automatically advances to the next round (Round of 12). The remaining available positions 1-12 that have not been filled based upon wins will be based on points. Each driver will then have their points reset to 3,000, with any awarded Playoff points added.
Bristol Motor Speedway / Lasco Press Photo
  • Round of 12: The second round (races 30-32 at Texas, Talladega, Charlotte Roval) is the Round of 12. Likewise, if a driver in the top 12 in points wins a race in this round, the driver automatically advances to the next round (Round of 8). The remaining available positions 1-8 that have not been filled based upon wins will be based on points. Each driver will then have their points reset to 4,000, with any awarded Playoff points added.
  • Round of 8: The third round (races 33-35 at Las Vegas, Homestead, Martinsville) is the Round of 8. If a driver in the top eight in points wins a race in this round, the driver automatically advances to the next round (Championship 4). The remaining available positions 1-4 that have not been filled based upon wins will be based on points. Each will then have their points reset to 5,000.
  • Additionally, drivers who are eliminated in the Round of 16, Round of 12, and Round of 8 will have their points readjusted. Each eliminated driver will return to the Playoff-start base of 2,000 with any awarded Playoff points and any accumulated points starting with race No. 27 added. This will allow all drivers not in contention for the title to continue to race for the best possible season-long standing, with final positions fifth-through-16th still up for grabs.

The Championship Finale

  • The 36th and final race of the season will be the Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway, which will feature the Championship 4 Round. Simply stated, the highest finisher in that race among the remaining four eligible drivers will win the NASCAR Cup Series title.
  • Playoff points for stage wins will not apply in the season finale, so the official finishing position alone will decide the champion.

Driver Snap Shots Heading into Darlington

Chase Elliott(9) (Hendrick Motorsports) heads to Darlington Raceway as the Regular Season Champion and the No. 1 seed in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with 2,040 points – up +33 points on the Round of 12 cutoff – in his seventh consecutive postseason appearance (2022, ’21 ’20, ’19, ’18, ’17, ’16). Elliott has made 11 series starts at Darlington Raceway, amassing three top fives and five top 10s. His average finish at the 1.366-mile track is 17.3.

Lasco Press Prediction: Advances to Championship Round

Chase Elliott / Lasco Press Photo

Joey Logano(22)  (Team Penske Ford Mustang) heads to Darlington Raceway as the No. 2 seed in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with 2,025 points – up +18 points on the Round of 12 cutoff – in his ninth postseason appearance (2022, ’21 ’20, ’19, ’18, ’16, ’15, ’14, ’13). Logano returns to the ‘Lady In Black’ as the most recent winner, taking home the trophy earlier this season from the pole position. Logano has made 17 series career starts at Darlington grabbing a pole, one win (2022), five top fives, and nine top 10s. His average finish at Darlington is 13.5.

Lasco Press Prediction: Advances to Championship Round

Joey Logano / Lasco Press Photo

Ross Chastain(1) (Trackhouse Racing) rolls into Darlington Raceway as the No. 3 seed in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with 2,020 points – up +13 points on the Round of 12 cutoff – in his first career postseason appearance. Looking to Darlington, Chastain has made six series starts at the egg-shaped track accumulating one top-five and one top-10 finish. His average finish at Darlington is 22.1

Lasco Press Prediction: Eliminated in the Round of 12

Kyle Larson(5) (Hendrick Motorsports), last season’s NASCAR Cup Series champion, heads to Darlington Raceway as the No. 4 seed in the Playoffs with 2,019 points – up +12 points on the Round of 12 cutoff – in his sixth postseason appearance (2022, ’21, ’19, ’18, ’17, ’16). Larson has made nine series starts at Darlington, posting five top fives and seven top 10s. His average finish at the 1.366-mile facility is 8.8 – second-best among Playoff contenders.

Lasco Press Prediction: Eliminated in the Round of 8

William Byron (24) (Hendrick Motorsports) heads to Darlington Raceway as the No. 5 seed in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with 2,014 points – up seven points on the Round of 12 cutoff – in his fourth consecutive appearance in the postseason (2022, ’21 ’20, ’19). Byron has made eight series starts at Darlington amassing two top fives and two top 10s. His average finish at the 1.366-mile track is 19.8.

Lasco Press Prediction: Eliminated in the Round of 12

Denny Hamlin(11) (Joe Gibbs Racing) heads to Darlington Raceway as the defending winner of this Playoff race last season and the No. 6 seed in this season’s Playoffs with 2,013 points – up six points on the Round of 12 cutoff – in his record setting 16th postseason appearance (2022, ’21, ’20, ’19, ’18, ’17, ’16, ’15, ’14, ’12, ’11, ’10, ’09, ’08, ’07, ’06). Hamlin has made 20 series starts at Darlington Raceway, putting up one pole, four wins (series-most among active drivers: 2010, 2017, 2020, 2021), 11 top fives, and 15 top 10s. His average finish at Darlington is 7.7 – the best among the Playoff contenders.

Lasco Press Prediction: Advances to Championship Round

Denny Hamlin / Lasco Press Photo

Ryan Blaney(12) (Team Penske Ford Mustang) heads to Darlington Raceway as the No. 7 seed NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with 2,013 points – up six points on the Round of 12 cutoff – in his sixth postseason appearance (2022, ’21 ’20, ’19, ’18, ’17). Blaney is the only Playoff contender without a win this season and earned his spot on points at Daytona last weekend. Blaney has made 11 series starts at Darlington, posting one top-10 finish (eighth). His average finish at the South Carolina track is 19.0.

Lasco Press Prediction: Advances to Championship Round

Ryan Blaney / Lasco Press Photo

Tyler Reddick (8) (Richard Childress Racing) arrives at Darlington Raceway as the No. 8 seed in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with 2,012 points – up five points on the Round of 12 cutoff – in his second career appearance in the postseason (2022, ‘21). Reddick has made six series starts at Darlington Raceway posting one top-five and two top-10 finishes. His average finish at Darlington is 12.5.

Lasco Press Prediction: Eliminated in the Round of 8

Kevin Harvick (4) (Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang) starts off the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs as the No. 9 seed with 2,012 points – up five points on the Round of 12 cutoff – in his record-setting 16th career postseason appearance (2022 ’21, ’20, ’19, ’18, ’17, ’16, ’15, ’14, ’13, ’12, ’11, ’10, ’08, ’07, ’06). Harvick has made 29 series starts at ‘the track too tough to tame’ grabbing three wins (2014, 2020-1, 2020-3), 13 top fives, and 18 top 10s. His average finish at Darlington is 12.1.

Lasco Press Prediction: Eliminated in the Round of 8

Christopher Bell (20) (Joe Gibbs Racing) heads to Darlington Raceway as the No. 10 seed in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with 2,011 points – up four points on the Round of 12 cutoff – in his second postseason appearance (2022, ’21). Bell has made six series starts at Darlington Raceway, collecting one top-10 finish (sixth). His average finish at Darlington is 18.1.

Lasco Press Prediction: Eliminated in the Round of 12

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) arrives at Darlington Raceway as the No. 11 seed in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with 2,010 points – up three points on the Round of 12 cutoff – in his 15th postseason appearance (2022, ’21 ’20, ’19, ’18, ’17, ’16, ’15, ’14, ’13, ’11, ’10, ’08, ’07, ’06). Busch has made 21 series starts at Darlington posting one win (2008) six top fives and 13 top 10s. His average finish at the 1.366-mile track is 12.9.

Lasco Press Prediction: Eliminated in the Round of 8

Chase Briscoe (No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford) rolls into Darlington Raceway as the No. 12 seed in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with 2,009 points – up just two points on the Round of 12 cutoff in the final transfer spot on points – in his first appearance in the postseason. Briscoe has made three series starts at Darlington posting a best finish of 11th in May of 2021. His average finish at Darlington is 16.6.

Lasco Press Prediction: Eliminated in the Round of 16

Daniel Suárez (99) (Trackhouse Racing) lands at Darlington Raceway as the No. 13 seed in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with 2,007 points – two points back from Chase Briscoe in the 12th and final transfer spot on points to the Round of 12 – in his first appearance in the NASCAR Cup Series postseason. Suárez is the first Mexican-born driver to earn a spot in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs (all-time). Suárez has made nine series starts at Darlington putting up one top-10 finish (10th earlier this season). His average finish at the historic track is 22.3

Lasco Press Prediction: Eliminated in the Round of 16

Austin Cindric (No. 2 Team Penske Ford) skips into Darlington Raceway as the No. 14 seed in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with 2,006 points – three points behind the Round of 12 cutoff – in his first appearance in the postseason. Cindric is the fourth different Sunoco rookie to earn a spot in the Playoffs; joining Denny Hamlin (2006), Chase Elliott (2016) and Christopher Bell (2020). Cindric made his series track debut at Darlington earlier this season; he started 19th and finished 18th.

Lasco Press Prediction: Eliminated in the Round of 16

Alex Bowman (48) (Hendrick Motorsports) will start the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs as the No. 15 seed with 2,006 points – three points behind the Round of 12 cutoff – in his fifth-straight appearance in the postseason (2022, ’21 ’20, ’19, ’18). Bowman has made 10 series starts at Darlington Raceway putting up one top-five and two top 10s. His average finish at the egg-shaped track is 19.2.

Lasco Press Prediction: Eliminated in the Round of 12

Austin Dillon (3) (Richard Childress Racing) is climbing off of Cloud-9 this week after winning his way into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs by taking the checkered flag in the regular season finale at Daytona. Now the North Carolina native heads to Darlington Raceway as the No. 16 seed with 2,005 points – back four points from the Round of 12 cutoff – in his fifth postseason appearance (2022, ’20, ’18, ’17, ’16). Dillon has made 12 series starts at Darlington posting two top fives and five top 10s. His average finish at Darlington is 11.9.

Lasco Press Prediction: Eliminated in the Round of 16