If the 2022 season represents anything at all, it represents the maturation of the "winning is everything" nature of the modern-day NASCAR Cup Series. Since the current playoff format was introduced in 2014, a culture shift has developed from an emphasis on season-long consistency to an emphasis on doing absolutely everything a team can to win races.
This season, that shift has come to full fruition, as a total of 16 different drivers visited Victory Lane in the regular season. Five drivers earned their first career win and, as a result, some of the sport's biggest names faced extreme pressure to get to the winner's circle in the final month of the regular season.
Now, 15 of those winners -- excluding Kurt Busch, who withdrew his playoff eligibility after being injured in a crash at Pocono -- are set to contend for the NASCAR Cup Series championship as part of the 2022 playoff field.
With four wins in the regular season, Chase Elliott had double the amount of victories of any other driver in the Cup Series on his way to the regular season championship. He's in prime position to contend for his second Cup championship, but there's an enormously evenly-matched field of drivers behind him from past Cup champions to some of the sport's rising stars -- all of whom are looking to add the Bill France Cup to their mantlepieces.
NASCAR Cup Series playoff format
The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs features an elimination-style format with four rounds in all. Drivers are seeded based on their number of race wins as well as the number of "playoff points" -- points earned from either winning a race, winning a stage mid-race, or through their points position at the end of the regular season -- they have accumulated throughout the entire season.
A driver can advance one of two ways:
- If they win a race, they automatically advance to the next round of the playoffs.
- Alternatively, they can also make it into the next round on points so long as they are above the cutoff line at the end of each respective three-race round.
- The four drivers below the cutoff line at the end of each round are eliminated from the playoffs and eliminated from championship contention. After each round, every remaining driver's points totals are reset, with playoff points continuing to determine seeding.
The four rounds of the playoffs are the Round of 16, the Round of 12, the Round of 8, and the Championship 4. The Championship 4 has special rules, as all four remaining drivers will have their points totals reset to an equal number for the final race of the season at Phoenix Raceway. That effectively turns the final race of the year into a pure match race, as whichever Championship 4 driver has the best finish in the season finale wins the NASCAR Cup Series championship.
NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings
- #9 - Chase Elliott -- 2040 pts -- 4 wins, 15 playoff pts
- #22 - Joey Logano -- 2025 pts (-15) -- 2 wins, 25 playoff pts
- #1 - Ross Chastain -- 2020 pts (-20) -- 2 wins, 20 playoff pts
- #5 - Kyle Larson -- 2019 pts (-21) -- 2 wins, 19 playoff pts
- #24 - William Byron -- 2014 pts (-26) -- 2 wins, 14 playoff pts
- #11 - Denny Hamlin -- 2013 pts (-27) -- 2 wins, 13 playoff pts
- #12 - Ryan Blaney -- 2013 pts (-27) -- 0 wins, 13 playoff pts
- #8 - Tyler Reddick -- 2012 pts (-28) -- 2 wins, 12 playoff pts
- #4 - Kevin Harvick -- 2012 pts (-28) -- 2 wins, 12 playoff pts
- #20 - Christopher Bell -- 2011 pts (-29) -- 1 win, 11 playoff pts
- #18 - Kyle Busch -- 2010 pts (-30) -- 1 win, 10 playoff pts
- #14 - Chase Briscoe -- 2009 pts (-31) -- 1 win, 9 playoff pts
- #99 - Daniel Suarez -- 2007 pts (-33) -- 1 win, 7 playoff pts
- #2 - Austin Cindric (R) -- 2006 pts (-34) -- 1 win, 6 playoff pts
- #48 - Alex Bowman -- 2006 pts (-34) -- 1 win, 6 playoff pts
- #3 - Austin Dillon -- 2005 pts (-35) -- 1 win, 5 playoff pts
NASCAR Cup Series playoffs schedule
Round of 16
- Sunday, Sept. 4 - Southern 500 - Darlington Raceway
- Sunday, Sept. 11 - Kansas Speedway
- Saturday, Sept. 17 - Bristol Motor Speedway (night)
Round of 12
- Sunday, Sept. 25 - Texas Motor Speedway
- Sunday, Oct. 2 - Talladega Superspeedway
- Sunday, Oct. 9 - Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval
Round of 8
- Sunday, Oct. 16 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway
- Sunday, Oct. 23 - Homestead-Miami Speedway
- Sunday, Oct. 30 - Martinsville Speedway
- Sunday, Nov. 6 - Phoenix Raceway