The playoff picture is now as simple as it gets

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoff picture is as simple as it gets heading into the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway.

The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway featured five drivers battling for the final three spots in the playoffs on points.

Things got so complicated that we even set up this tracker to track stage by stage where each driver stood and how each driver projected out if they were to finish the race where they finished the first stage and then the second.

One of those drivers ultimately won the race, and two of the other four got in on points, as the win left just two spots, not three, open for drivers to get in without winning a regular season race.

This year, things are a heck of a lot less complicated.

The 2021 regular season has seen 13 different playoff eligible drivers find victory lane. All 13 are locked into the playoffs.

Here’s a list of each driver and where they won.

  • Michael McDowell, Front Row Motorsports, #34 Ford
    • Daytona International Speedway
  • Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, #20 Toyota
    • Daytona International Speedway road course
  • William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, #24 Chevrolet
  • Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, #5 Chevrolet
    • Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, Nashville Superspeedway, Watkins Glen International
  • Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, #19 Toyota
    • Phoenix Raceway, Martinsville Speedway, Darlington Raceway
  • Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, #12 Ford
    • Atlanta Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway
  • Joey Logano, Team Penske, #22 Ford
    • Bristol Motor Speedway (dirt)
  • Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, #48 Chevrolet
    • Richmond Raceway, Dover International Speedway, Pocono Raceway
  • Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, #2 Ford
  • Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, #18 Toyota
    • Kansas Speedway, Pocono Raceway
  • Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, #9 Chevrolet
    • Circuit of the Americas, Road America
  • Kurt Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing, #1 Chevrolet
  • Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, #10 Ford
    • New Hampshire Motor Speedway

The following two drivers are locked into the playoffs whether they win or not, as they are not within striking distance of the final driver above the playoff cut line. As a result, even if an upset winner emerges in the regular season finale, they cannot be bumped from the top 16.

  • Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, #11 Toyota
    • 324 points above the playoff cut line, 299 points ahead of the final driver above the playoff cut line
  • Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, #4 Ford
    • 104 points above the playoff cut line, 79 points ahead of the final driver above the playoff cut line

Harvick just clinched his playoff berth in this past Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway. Hamlin clinched his in the previous Sunday’s race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, a race won by Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger, who is not eligible for the Cup Series playoffs.

So a total of 15 playoff spots are already locked up heading into this year’s regular season finale, and there are only two drivers who can possibly secure the 16th and final spot on points.

Everybody else needs to win to secure the spot.

The 16th and final playoff spot is currently held by Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick. He leads teammate Austin Dillon, the first driver below the playoff cut line, by 25 points.

So if Reddick stays ahead of Dillon in points, he is in, as long as a new winner doesn’t emerge.

As for Dillon, if he passes Reddick, he is in, as long as a new winner doesn’t emerge.

And if either one of them wins, the winner is in.

If a new winner (other than these two) emerges, neither one of these two drivers can get in, and whoever that winner is would get in instead.

Here’s a list of every other driver who is in a “win and in” (also a “win or out”) situation heading into the regular season finale.

  • Matt DiBenedetto, Wood Brothers Racing, #21 Ford
  • Chris Buescher, Roush Fenway Racing, #17 Ford
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr., JTG Daugherty Racing, #47 Chevrolet
  • Ross Chastain, Chip Ganassi Racing, #42 Chevrolet
  • Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, #23 Toyota
  • Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas Racing, #14 Ford
  • Erik Jones, Richard Petty Motorsports, #43 Chevrolet
  • Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing Team, #99 Chevrolet
  • Ryan Newman, Roush Fenway Racing, #6 Ford
  • Ryan Preece, JTG Daugherty Racing, #37 Chevrolet
  • Cole Custer, Stewart-Haas Racing, #41 Ford
  • Corey LaJoie, Spire Motorsports, #7 Chevrolet
  • Anthony Alfredo, Front Row Motorsports, #38 Ford

No driver below Alfredo, who sits in 30th place in the point standings, can finish the season in the top 30 in the standings, so a win would not get them into the playoffs.

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale, the Coke Zero Sugar 400, is set to be broadcast live on NBC from Daytona International Speedway beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, August 28. Be sure to start your free trial of FuboTV today if you have not yet done so!

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