Guide to the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs

Guide to the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs

September isn’t far out, which means NASCAR drivers and fans are revving up for the next leg of the season: the NASCAR playoffs. After 26 regular-season races, one driver will be declared the regular season champion before the next phase begins. From there, the playoffs begin.

How do drivers clinch a playoff spot? And if they get a spot, how are the playoffs organized? And finally, which 2023 racers will we see on the track come September? Learn the rules of NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and more in this post.


NASCAR’s 75-year history shows that the sport isn’t afraid of changing things up. In fact, the organization has adjusted its point system 15 different times since 1949. And while that may sound like a lot of change, it’s all in an effort to make the sport as exciting and enjoyable as possible.

Before 2004, there was no NASCAR playoffs. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the organization decided to implement the “Chase for the Cup” which was later renamed the NASCAR playoffs.


Starting in 2018, the NASCAR Cup Series regular season championship was awarded to the driver who got the most points in the 26 regular season races. But how do drivers win these points? And what’s the difference between regular season and playoff points?

First, drivers gain points during the regular season based on their final place in the race. With a maximum of 40 cars per race, drivers receive anywhere from 40 points, for finishing first, to 1 point, for finishing last. If a driver won every race of the season, they would accumulate 1,040 points from the wins alone.

Another change to the NASCAR point system in 2018 was the addition of stage points. Races are split into three stages, and drivers can win additional points for their finishing place in Stages 1 and 2.

The first two stages make up half the race, with the third taking up the other half of laps. Similar to how drivers get points for their final place, the top-10 drivers to finish each stage are awarded points, from 10 to 1.

Drivers can also gain playoff points, which are counted differently, during regular season races. Stage winners get one playoff point, while race winners get 5 playoff points plus an automatic entry into the first round of the playoffs*. At the end of the regular season, the top 10 point-getters are given bonus points for the playoffs, ranging from 15 points to 1 point.


Once the top 16 drivers have been decided, there are four rounds of playoffs to determine the NASCAR Cup Series champion. The rounds are:

  1. Round of 16
  2. Round of 12
  3. Round of 8
  4. Championship 4

Drivers begin the playoffs with 2,000 points each plus any bonus points collected in the regular season. This number decides the starting order of the playoffs. Drivers can gain additional playoff points by winning a race or a stage of a race during the playoffs.

Each round, except for the final, four drivers with the lowest number of points are eliminated from the playoffs. The first three rounds are split into three races each, so not all drivers compete against each other every race.

Points are reset at the beginning of each new round, increasing from 2,000 to 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000 for the subsequent rounds. The final four drivers then battle it out for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship, with the first-place driver becoming the NASCAR champion.

Drivers that are eliminated during playoffs are then placed 5-16th, depending on their final point total, taking into account the bonus points accumulated.


According to NASCAR, they implemented the playoffs to make NASCAR’s mid-season races more competitive, as well as to increase fan excitement and viewership numbers. While there are some coincidences in the timing (i.e., Matt Kenseth’s win in 2003), NASCAR officials stand by their decision to put more emphasis on winning races than having a steady season.


While playoffs extend the season for the top 16 drivers and gives them a chance to win a championship NASCAR title, not everyone is a fan. One of the biggest critiques is around the point reset during the playoffs. Critics believe the playoff format allows for less-skilled drivers to get a chance at winning, while deserving drivers with one bad race can just as easily lose that chance.


As the 2023 regular Cup Series season comes to its final races, 13 race champions are sitting comfortably in the playoff zone, with three spots left up for grabs. Kevin Harvick hasn’t won a race this year but hasn’t missed the playoffs since they started. Will he be able to pull out a win in the final laps of the season? If not, his regular season points could still give him an edge into the Round of 16.

Other drivers on the brink of success are Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace and Michael McDowell.


Check back here for the NASCAR Cup Series news you need to be ready for the next stage of the season. And make sure to catch the remaining races of the season on USA or NBC with your DIRECTV subscription.

If you aren’t a DIRECTV customer yet, now’s the time to make the switch! NASCAR playoffs, football preseason, college ball and more are right around the corner, and DIRECTV has the best sports coverage. It’s a win-win!

Check out the CHOICE™ Package today.

*If there are more than 16 race winners in the regular season, the top 16 in race wins move on to playoffs

Frequently Asked Questions

When do NASCAR Playoffs start?

The 2023 NASCAR Playoffs begin in September, with the first Round of 16 race taking place September 3rd.

Where can I watch NASCAR?

You can watch NASCAR at home on USA or NBC, channels 242 and 12, respectively.

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