NASCAR introduced their playoff system in 2014 and every year since 16 drivers make the field each year. Over the next 10 races that 16 will dwindle down to four come Phoenix in November. There are four rounds, the round of sixteen, round of twelve, round of eight, and the round of four. Each round consists of three races with the round of four being a winner take all race in Phoenix. The playoffs are a chance for a driver to put together a dream run. In 2022, NASCAR has had 16 different winners which makes it very hard to pick a championship favorite. With such a diverse set of tracks and a brand new car, anything can happen in this year’s edition of the playoffs. Here’s a look at every playoff driver’s season and their chances to win the NASCAR Cup Series crown.
1st Seed: Chase Elliott- 2040 points, +33 above cutline, 4 wins
The fan favorite has been the most consistent driver this season notching ten top fives and seventeen top tens. He leads the series in both those categories this season. Chase is also tied for fewest DNF’s this season and in a playoff system where DNF’s can kill a whole season, that’s crucial. Chase has more than enough playoff points to help carry him into the round of twelve barring any disastrous performances. From there, Chase has some of his best tracks in Talladega, Charlotte Roval, and Martinsville among others. I expect Chase to win a couple races and more than likely find himself in the championship four fighting for his second championship.
2nd Seed: Joey Logano- 2025 points, +18 above cutline, 2 wins
Logano enters the playoffs looking for his second championship of his career. Logano has been his aggressive self this season but it’s led him to a couple wins at Darlington and Gateway. After that Gateway win Logano had a rough rest of the summer, only gaining one top ten through six races in June and July. After being extremely aggressive to gain spots at the Indianapolis Road Course Logano has gained a head of steam going into the playoffs. The next five races saw four top tens and a 12th at Daytona to finish the regular season. Logano is known to be quite streaky and in a playoff system that benefits guys who get hot at the right time, Logano may be shaping up to be a threat. I predict Logano will be knocked out in the round of eight barring a clutch victory at Martinsville where he finished second in the spring.
3rd Seed: Ross Chastain- 2020 points, +13 above cutline, 2 wins
Ross Chastain has easily been the most polarizing driver this season as he’s been involved in an incident with a driver almost every week. Whether it’s Chase Elliott or Denny Hamlin, Chastain has a target on his back. Ross is having the best season of his career by far with ten top fives and fourteen top tens and he plans to carry that into the playoffs. That being said, Ross has been losing momentum the last few weeks. Chastain hasn’t had a top ten since New Hampshire back in mid July. Momentum matters entering these playoffs and with a target on his back, Ross is going to have his work cut out for him. If he can pull it off, it would be a story for the ages. I expect Ross to get knocked out in the round of twelve, as I think his misfortunes will finally catch up to him.
4th Seed: Kyle Larson- 2019 points, +12 above cutline, 2 wins
The defending champion has had a solid year in 2022 but like Ross Chastain, he’s been no stranger to controversy. Both of Larson’s two wins at Auto Club and Watkins Glen came after contact with teammate and points leader Chase Elliott. Chase has been very polite in interviews about the situation, but it’s obvious that Chase isn’t the happiest with Larson. The two’s rivalry compares to Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson back in the 2000’s. Larson will look to beat his teammate for the title two years in a row. Unfortunately for Larson, DNF’s have derailed some great races for him this season. Larson hasn’t finished six races this season tying him for second most in the series. With a playoff format that requires good finishes each week, one slip up from the 5 team could see Larson drop out of the playoffs early. I predict Larson will make it to the Final Four by getting a clutch win at Homestead in the round of eight.
5th seed: William Byron- 2014 points, +7 above cutline, 2 wins
The third Hendrick driver to find himself in the playoffs has struggled since contact with Joey Logano at Darlington in the spring. William Byron started the year off strong and was the first driver this season to get more than one win. After his run in with Logano, Byron has only been able to scrounge one top ten. Darlington was at the beginning of May and Byron’s last top ten was at Sonoma in June. Since then Byron hasn’t been able to crack the top ten whether because of lack of luck or speed. Byron was an early championship favorite but his struggles through the summer have many doubting his chances in the playoffs. I predict Byron will be knocked out in the round of 12 after struggling at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.
6th Seed: Denny Hamlin- 2013 points, +6 above cutline, 2 wins
Veteran Denny Hamlin enters another playoffs looking for that elusive championship trophy that has haunted him for years. Unlike the last few years, Denny enters the playoffs with one of his worst statistical seasons since 2014. Despite 2 wins(3 if he wasn’t disqualified at Pocono) Hamlin only has five top fives and 7 top tens this season. His consistency isn’t there with the new car, but the same could be said about all of Joe Gibbs Racing. He is always solid in the playoffs but this year could be a step back. Hamlin doesn’t do well with controversy around him in the playoffs. I expect more of the same and think he will be knocked out in the round of eight, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the final four.
7th Seed: Ryan Blaney- 2013 points, +6 above cutline, 0 wins
Blaney is the only driver in the playoffs without a win and without Kurt Busch pulling his waiver due to injury, Blaney wouldn’t be here. That being said, the Penske driver absolutely deserves to be in the playoffs. Blaney spent most of the regular season second in points just behind Chase Elliott. Blaney was consistent and has led a solid amount of laps this season. He just hasn’t been able to finish races like he did a year ago and just like the regular season, that may come back to haunt him. To Blaney’s fortune however the playoff schedule has been shuffled and the round of eight tracks this time around are much better tracks for Blaney. Blaney has struggled a lot in the round of eight, but with the schedule change I see him succeeding. It’s a bold pick, but I think Blaney could have a similar playoffs to Tony Stewart’s 2011 season. I think he’ll make the final four after picking up a win in the round of twelve, and another or two in the round of eight.
8th seed: Tyler Reddick- 2012 points, +5 above cutline, 2 wins
Another driver who has been caught up in some drama this season is Tyler Reddick. Reddick got his first win of his career at Road America on July 4th weekend. Shortly after it was announced Reddick would be leaving Richard Childress Racing for 23XI Racing in 2024. It was a shock to the organization and left owner Richard Childress very upset with Reddick. Despite that, Reddick went out and won again at Indianapolis Road Course, proving he has no problem winning under pressure. Reddick may be one of the best talents in the field, but as of right now he isn’t in top level equipment. This has caused him to have some bad runs of 25th or worse every few weeks, which may hurt him later in the playoffs. I think Reddick will be knocked out in the round of eight and will put on a performance that further proves he is a future face of the sport.
9th Seed: Kevin Harvick- 2012 points, +5 above cutline, 2 wins
The oldest driver in the playoff field snapped a 65 race winless streak just a few weeks ago at Michigan. He then went on to win the next week in Richmond giving this team a ton of momentum heading into the playoffs. Harvick is one of the most successful drivers ever in the playoffs as he’s tied for most championship four appearances with five. Harvick has been great in the postseason but he has struggled some years as well. It was only a couple years ago that Harvick had arguably the best season of his career and was knocked out in the round of eight. That being said, Harvick has only been getting better all year, he’s going to make the championship four and be a big threat in Phoenix.
10th Seed: Christopher Bell- 2011 points, +4 above cutline, 1 win
Christopher Bell scored his only win on the year in New Hampshire in what was a clutch performance at his best track. While many have Bell taking an early exit in the round of sixteen, Bell hasn’t finished worse than 7th at the rounds tracks this season. Bristol, Darlington, and Kansas have all been great runs for this 20 team. After that I believe Bell will struggle in the round of twelve as he tends to have a bad run every three to four races. Not to mention Bell’s poor luck at Talladega. Bell has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants a championship, but with a little momentum in the first round, who knows how far he could go.
11th seed: Kyle Busch- 2010 points, +3 above cutline, 1 win
Kyle has been in the news all season regarding his contract with long time team Joe Gibbs Racing. The negotiations have been ongoing for a while and the drama of it all has surrounded the team like a wildfire. For Busch, he’s done all he can to remain himself and try to win races. Early in the year he lucked into a win at Bristol Dirt after Chase Briscoe spun Tyler Reddick for the win coming to the checkers. Kyle carried that momentum through the beginning of June before going eight straight races without a top ten. Busch has picked things up a little heading into the playoffs, but it seems the contract talks still might be getting to him. Despite that, expect Busch to perform well in the playoffs, but ultimately fall just short of another championship four berth in the round of eight.
12th seed: Chase Briscoe- 2009 points, +2 above cutline, 1 win
Stewart-Haas Racing’s second playoff driver Chase Briscoe has struggled a lot this season. The team was running well early in the season but fell off after Charlotte. Since May, the 14 team hasn’t scored a top ten at all. The team performs well during races and they’ve even won a few stages, but they often make a mistake in the crucial moments of stage three. These mistakes have cost Chase a ton of spots on the track and ultimately a ton of points as well. Unfortunately, I don’t expect that to change in the playoffs, and I expect Chase to be among one of the first out in the round of sixteen.
13th seed: Daniel Suarez- 2007 points, -2 below cutline, 1 win
Trackhouse racing’s second playoff entry has been very productive this season. Suarez’s second year with Trackhouse saw him get his first win at Sonoma and become a regular inside the top ten each week. Suarez has found himself a stable home with Justin Marks and Pitbull’s team and he’s proven just how much talent he has. He’s had an up and down year where every few great runs leads to a couple of bad runs. Suarez has struggled the last few weeks not including his top five at Watkins Glen. With that lack of momentum, I think Suarez will struggle in the round of sixteen but ultimately won’t get knocked out until the round of twelve.
14th seed: Austin Cindric- 2006 points, -3 below cutline, 1 win
Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric comes into the playoffs as the only rookie to make the postseason. Cindric took over for veteran Brad Keselowski in the famed 2 car this season and immediately made his mark by winning the sports most prestigious race. After week one, Cindric really struggled to get anywhere near the top ten for a while. Rookies often struggle when coming up to the Cup level and for a while Cindric was no exception. After Gateway, the team had figured something out and rattled off four finishes inside the top seven. They have continued to perform since, only finishing outside the top fifteen twice. Even with momentum though Cindric will struggle early like most rookies in the postseason. I see him being knocked out in the round of sixteen, but not without putting up a fight.
15th Seed: Alex Bowman- 2006 points, -3 below cutline, 1 win
Hendrick Motorsports final playoff entry hasn’t been stellar since the All Star race. Alex Bowman won early on at Las Vegas to lock himself into the postseason, but he has arguably been Hendrick’s worst driver this season. The team has only had one top ten since the Coca Cola 600 and they’ve had multiple finishes outside the top thirty. Bowman is starting the first round below the cutline and can’t afford to have a poor finish at any point in the postseason. Also, Bowman’s crew chief Greg Ives announced he would be stepping away come season’s end. The 88 team has been trending downwards since May and I don’t see that changing in September. He’ll be a first round exit and the first of the Hendrick camp eliminated.
16th Seed: Austin Dillon- 2005 points, -4 below cutline, 1 win
Austin Dillon was the last of the playoff drivers to punch his ticket into the postseason with a clutch victory at Daytona this past weekend. Dillon has the same average finish as his teammate Tyler Reddick, but Dillon lacks stage points and hasn’t been able to finish races like Reddick can. Dillon is no stranger to the playoffs though as he has made it four other times in his career. That being said, like some other drivers in the playoff field, Dillon has a bad run every few races. I expect him to struggle at Darlington and Kansas, ultimately knocking him out of the playoffs in the round of sixteen for the third time in his career.
The 2022 regular season was one of the most exciting and dramatic regular seasons in a long time. The playoffs will be no different. In this postseason format, any of these sixteen drivers has a chance to be crowned champion in 2022. With the playoff schedule being altered this year, it will be intriguing to see who does well late in the postseason.
Round of 16 Eliminations: Austin Dillon, Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman
Round of 12 Eliminations: Ross Chastain, William Byron, Daniel Suarez, Christopher Bell
Round of 8 Eliminations: Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick
Championship 4: Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick
Champion: Chase Elliott
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