The regular season is complete, and now there are only 10 races standing between the top 16 drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series and the championship trophy. Here is everything to know before the opening round kicks off at Darlington Raceway on Sunday (6 p.m. ET on USA Network).
Sixteen drivers head to Darlington with championship dreams. Some have accomplished this goal in previous seasons, others have fallen short and one is trying for the first time. This creates a diverse lineup with 10 organizations represented.
Past champs – Brad Keselowski (2012), Kevin Harvick (2014), Kyle Busch (2015, ‘19), Martin Truex Jr. (2017), Joey Logano (2018, ’22), Kyle Larson (2021).
Past playoff contenders – Chris Buescher (second appearance), Michael McDowell (second appearance), Christopher Bell (third appearance), Denny Hamlin (17th appearance), William Byron (fifth appearance), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (second appearance), Ryan Blaney (seventh appearance), Tyler Reddick (third appearance), Ross Chastain (second appearance).
First-timer – Bubba Wallace competes in the playoffs for the first time as a Cup Series driver
All times Eastern
Round of 16
Darlington Raceway – Sunday, Sept. 3 (6 p.m. on USA Network)
Kansas Speedway – Sunday, Sept. 10 (3 p.m. on USA Network)
Bristol Motor Speedway – Saturday, Sept. 16 (7:30 p.m. on USA Network)
Round of 12
Texas Motor Speedway – Sunday, Sept. 24 (3:30 p.m. on USA Network)
Talladega Superspeedway – Sunday, Oct. 1 (2 p.m. on NBC)
Charlotte Roval – Sunday, Oct. 8 (2 p.m. on NBC)
Round of 8
Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Sunday, Oct. 15 (2:30 p.m. on NBC)
Homestead-Miami Speedway – Sunday, Oct. 22 (2:30 p.m. on NBC)
Martinsville Speedway – Sunday, Oct. 29 (2 p.m. on NBC)
Phoenix Raceway – Sunday, Nov. 5 (3 p.m. on NBC and Peacock)
The importance of the regular-season championship
The battle for the final playoff spot was the focus heading into Daytona, but the regular-season championship deserved equal attention. Martin Truex Jr. captured this prize and secured 15 playoff points. Denny Hamlin finished second in the regular-season standings and secured 10 playoff points.
Do those five extra playoff points make a difference over the course of 10 weeks? Let’s examine the history.
NASCAR introduced the regular-season championship in 2017. Seven drivers have won the award. Only one of the previous six has failed to reach the Championship 4.
2017 – Truex won the regular-season championship. He reached the Championship 4 after winning at Chicagoland Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Kansas Speedway. He capped off the year with a win at Homestead-Miami Speedway to claim his championship.
2018 – Kyle Busch won the regular-season championship. He reached the Championship 4 after winning races at Richmond Raceway and Phoenix Raceway. He finished fourth in the final race while Joey Logano won the first title of his career.
2019 – Busch won the regular-season championship for the second time. He did not win a race during the first three rounds of the playoffs, but he reached the Championship 4. He won the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to capture his second Cup title.
2020 – Kevin Harvick won seven races to lock up the regular-season championship. He added two more wins during the playoffs, but he fell short of the Championship 4. Chase Elliott locked up his spot in the final round by winning the elimination race and then won the championship one week later at Phoenix.
2021 – Kyle Larson won the regular-season championship after winning five races. He reached the Championship 4 after winning four races in the first three playoff rounds. He won his 10th race of the season at Phoenix and secured his first Cup title.
2022 – Elliott won four regular-season races and the regular-season championship. He won his fifth race of the season at Talladega. He reached the Championship 4 for the third consecutive season but finished fourth in the standings while Logano won his second Cup title.
2023 Race Wins
5 — William Byron
3 — Martin Truex Jr., Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch
2 — Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson
1 — Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
0 — Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Bubba Wallace
2023 Stage Wins
8 — William Byron
6 — Martin Truex Jr.
5 — Denny Hamlin, Ross Chastain
4 — Brad Keselowski, Tyler Reddick
3 — Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney
2 — Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell
1 — Chris Buescher, Kevin Harvick
0 — Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bubba Wallace