Editor‘s note: This year’s playoff field will be spotlighted in USA Network‘s new unscripted series “Race for the Championship” airing this fall. The first episode is Thursday, Sept. 1, at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Watch the trailer here.
Twenty-four down. Two to go.
In what is likely the most unpredictable regular season in the history of NASCAR’s playoff era, two races remain before the 16-driver playoff field is set.
With 15 Cup Series winners so far this season, there are still various scenarios in play for this year’s postseason — especially with the next two races taking place at road course Watkins Glen International and unpredictable Daytona International Speedway.
Here’s everything you need to know for the next two weeks.
RELATED: Current Playoff outlook
Scenario: No new winners over the next two races
If there are no new winners over the next two races, then the 15 drivers who have won a race this year will advance to the postseason. The final spot will be decided between Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. There are no other drivers who can advance to the postseason by points.
With two races remaining, Blaney sits 26 points ahead of Truex.
Scenario: The winless Regular Season Champion
A win automatically qualifies a driver for the postseason. So, too, does winning the Regular Season Championship. For a spell, it appeared that winless Blaney — currently second in the regular-season standings — could really turn the playoff picture upside down if he were to surpass points leader Chase Elliott.
Consider this scenario kaput, however.
Blaney is 116 points behind Elliott. If Blaney gets the maximum number of points without winning over the next two races, that would net him 55 points per race (35 points for finishing runner-up, plus 20 points for two stage wins in this hypothetical scenario). That’s 110 points total, which isn’t enough to catch Elliott, even if the Hendrick Motorsports driver finishes last place the next two weeks.
There’s still a remote chance Blaney catches Elliott for the Regular Season Championship, but he would have to win — which would then clinch Blaney’s spot in the postseason anyway.
RELATED: Current standings
Scenario: Exactly 16 winners
Simple. The 16 drivers who win a race in the 26-race regular season would advance to the playoffs, provided they are ranked 30th or better in the regular-season standings.
Scenario: 17 winners
Call this one The Chaos Theory.
If there are 17 winners, clearly a driver who has won a race will not advance to the 16-driver playoffs.
Here’s how it would be determined: Every driver with multiple wins would advance. So, Chase Elliott (4 wins), Ross Chastain (2), Joey Logano (2), Kevin Harvick (2), William Byron (2), Denny Hamlin (2) and Tyler Reddick (2) are safe. One-win drivers Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and Kyle Busch also mathematically cannot be eliminated from the postseason picture if there are 17 winners, so count them in the field, too.
Of all the remaining drivers with one victory, whoever is lowest in the points standings would be eliminated and not advance to the postseason.
Of the current crop of winners, Kurt Busch is the likely odd man out in this scenario, given that he has missed four consecutive races due to recovering from concussion-like symptoms following a qualifying wreck at Pocono Raceway. However, if one of the new winners sits behind Busch in the standings, it’s possible they could win one of the remaining two races and still not advance in this scenario.
Here’s a look at the points between the remaining one-time winners this year: