A look at drivers to come from outside the playoff window to get a playoff berth in the final race of the regular season

It all comes down to this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, this Saturday, August 29 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

For the first time in series history, the NASCAR Cup Series has overcome a stoppage in competition due to a pandemic, mid-year scheduling changes and back-to-back doubleheaders to get to this point in the year. Now the drivers have just one last chance to etch their names in the 2020 Playoff grid, as this is the first time Daytona International Speedway has hosted the regular season finale. Since the inception of the Playoffs in the series in 2004, Richmond Raceway held the regular season finale from 2004 to 2017 (14 years) and then from 2018-2019 Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted the final regular season event.

The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is currently operating in its third iteration of the postseason’s points system since its inception in 2004. The first Playoff points system (from 2004 to 2009) had the top 10 to 12 drivers earn their position in the Playoffs by points only. The second version of the Playoff points system (2010 to 2013) incorporated the top 10 drivers to get in on points/wins with the addition of two extra drivers referred to as the Wildcards. The third version of the Playoff points system (2014 to Present) features drivers vying for the top 16 Playoff spots either by points or the ‘Win and You’re In’ rule. The third version of the Playoffs also instituted the elimination style format with four drivers being eliminated from the Playoffs at the conclusion of each postseason round culminating with the Championship 4 battling it out for the title in the season finale.   

Playoff Points System 1 (2004-2006 – Top 10 in on Points; 2007-2009 – Top 12 in on Points)

Four drivers have come from outside the postseason cut-off to make the Playoffs at Richmond in the first iteration of the Playoff championship format:

  • Jeremy Mayfield in 2004 made up a 55-point deficit
  • Ryan Newman in 2005 made up a one-point deficit
  • Kasey Kahne in 2006 made up a 30-point deficit
  • Brian Vickers in 2009 made up a 20-point deficit

Playoff Points System 2 (2010-2013 – Top 10 in on Wins/Points and Two Wildcards)

Seven drivers have come from outside the postseason cut-off to make the Playoffs at Richmond in the second iteration of the Playoff championship format that incorporates the Wild Card:

  • Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer are the two drivers that clinched the Wild Card in 2010 to make the Playoffs. Biffle was 11th in points with one win; Bowyer was 12th in points with no wins heading into the regular season finale.
  • Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin are the two drivers that clinched the Wild Card in 2011 to make the Playoffs. Keselowski was 11th in points with three wins; Hamlin was 12th in points with one win heading into the regular season finale.
  • Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon are the two drivers that clinched the Wild Card in 2012 to make the Playoffs. Kahne was 11th in points with two wins; Gordon was 13th in points with one win heading into the regular season finale.
  • Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne are the two drivers that clinched the Wild Card in 2013 to make the Playoffs. Kahne was 12th in points with two wins; Newman was 14th in points with one win heading into regular season finale.
  • Due to a rare instance in the final race of the regular season that resulted in penalties being issued; a 13th car (Jeff Gordon’s No. 24) was added to the Playoffs. It was the second time in the Playoff Era the number of entries was expanded.

Playoff Points System 3 (2014 – Present – Top 16 in on Wins or Points/Elimination Style)

In the third iteration of the Playoff championship format from 2014-Present – Only one driver outside the Playoff cutoff has raced their way into the Playoffs in the regular season finale through points or last-minute wins.

  • From 2014 to 2018 – the drivers that won or were inside the top 16 that were expected to make the Playoffs did, no drivers raced their way into the Playoffs in the regular season finale on points or wins.
  • Last season, heading into the regular season finale at Indianapolis, Ryan Newman was tied with Daniel Suarez for the 16th and final transfer position to the Playoffs. Newman finished eighth in the regular season finale to Suarez’s 11th, earning the final transfer spot into the postseason.

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