NASCAR Playoff Rules

NASCAR Playoff Rules

The NASCAR Playoffs are an exciting time of year when the best stock car drivers on the planet compete to be crowned the NASCAR Cup Series champion. The playoffs use a unique “win and you’re in format,” adding to the potential for upsets and drama. There are also unique rules for qualifying for and advancing through the postseason. Keep reading for a complete breakdown of all the rules for the NASCAR Playoffs.

Who Makes the Playoffs in NASCAR?

The 16 drivers with the most wins throughout the regular season make the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. If fewer than 16 drivers win a regular season race, they are also seeded based on how many driver points they have earned throughout the regular season. Drivers earn points by winning stages and achieving a high finishing position in races. Whoever is in the top 16 in terms of both wins and driver points gets to participate in the playoff’s Round of 16.

NASCAR Playoff Rounds

The NASCAR playoffs take place over four rounds, with three races in each round except for the final round, which consists of only the championship race. These rounds are the Round of 16, Round of 12, Round of 8, and Championship 4. Following the final race in each round, the bottom four drivers in playoff points are eliminated from the playoffs. In addition to advancing by earning playoff points, playoff drivers can automatically advance to the next round by winning a race. This is known as the “win and you’re in” format.

In the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race, the four remaining playoff drivers compete among themselves to get the highest finishing position. The playoff driver with the best finish wins the championship, even if they don’t win the race.

Playoff Points

Once the NASCAR Cup Series regular season is over, all 16 playoff drivers have their point totals reset to 2,000 plus whatever playoff points they earned during the regular season. Playoff points are awarded in the following format:

First-place regular season champion15 Points
Second-place regular season champion10 Points
Third-place regular season champion8 Points
Fourth-place regular season standing7 Points
Fifth-place regular season standing6 Points
Sixth-place regular season standing5 Points
Seventh-place regular season standing4 Points
Eighth-place regular season standing3 Points
Ninth-place regular season standing2 Points
Tenth-place regular season standing1 Point
Winning a playoff race5 Points
Winning a playoff stage1 Point

Playoff points are given throughout the playoffs in a similar manner to which they are given out for regular season races. Playoff races still feature a full field of 40 drivers, but only the 16 qualifying drivers can earn playoff points. After the first two stages in a race, drivers are given points inverse to their standing so that the first-place winner gets ten points and points decrease until the 10th-place winner only gets one point. After the race, first-place winners are awarded 40 points, and points awarded decrease gradually for the drivers behind them until all drivers placed 36th and lower get only one point.

After each round, the drivers get their points reset. Just as the drivers had their points reset to 2,000 at the start of the Round of 16, the remaining drivers have their points reset to 3,000 when entering the Round of 12 and reset to 4,000 when entering the Round of 8. For the Championship, all four eligible drivers have their points reset at 5,000, and the highest-finishing driver is declared the race’s winner.

NASCAR Playoff Overtime

Just like during the regular season, NASCAR Playoff races are not allowed to end under caution. If a playoff race reaches its final scheduled lap with the yellow flag waving, a two-lap overtime is added to the end of the race. After the hazard has been cleared, the field makes a rolling restart. At least one lap of green-flag racing must take place for overtime to end and the race to be completed. As many overtimes as necessary will take place in order for this to happen.

NASCAR Playoff Rules Summary

  • 16 drivers make it to the NASCAR Playoffs.
  • Drivers qualify automatically by winning a regular-season race.
  • If there are fewer than 16 regular-season race winners, the remaining drivers with the highest number of driver points qualify for the playoffs.
  • In each playoff race, there is a full field of 40 drivers, but only 16 drivers earn playoff points and contend for the Cup Series Championship Race.
  • During the playoffs, the playoff drivers earn playoff points for winning stages and finishing well in races. They also receive playoff points based on their regular-season finish.
  • The NASCAR Playoffs take place over four rounds, with the bottom four drivers in playoff points eliminated after each round.
  • Each round has three races, except for the championship round, which is only one race.
  • Playoff drivers can automatically advance to the next round by winning one of the current round’s races.
  • The remaining playoff driver that has the highest finish in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race wins the championship, regardless of whether they win the race.


How do drivers qualify for the NASCAR Playoffs?

Drivers qualify for the NASCAR Playoffs by having the most wins and playoff points during the regular season. The 16 drivers with the most wins qualify for the playoffs. If there are any ties in number of race wins, the drivers with the most points earned during regular season advance ahead of competitors with fewer driver points.

How many rounds are in the NASCAR Playoffs?

There are four rounds in the NASCAR Playoffs. Much like March Madness in collegiate basketball, the four rounds are named for the number of participants in each round. The first round is the Round of 16, followed by the Round of 12, the Round of 8, and finally, the Championship 4. Whoever finishes first during the Championship 4 race is declared the winner of the playoffs.