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NASCAR Playoffs 101: What you need to know

Welcome to the 2020 NASCAR Playoffs! Read on to brush up on how the postseason works, and the key dates for all three national series.

The structure

For all three NASCAR national series, there are a series of eliminations as the NASCAR Playoffs progress. This culminates in the series finales at Phoenix Raceway, where the Championship 4 drivers race “straight-up” for the title — the first to cross the line of the four championship-eligible drivers is crowned the champion. This year’s championship weekend is scheduled to be in Phoenix for the first time. Previously, Homestead-Miami Speedway had been the track to host the final race weekend since 2002.

How they get here:
“Win and you’re in.” Championship-eligible drivers who won a race during the regular season, attempted to qualify for all regular-season races and met a minimum points position (NASCAR Cup Series: top 30; NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series: top 20) qualify for the playoffs.

If there are fewer unique race winners than open spots in the playoffs, the remaining positions are filled based on regular-season points.

Round-by-round

NASCAR Cup Series
– 16 drivers, four rounds
– Playoffs begin at Darlington Raceway (Sept. 6)
– Cutoff races, where four drivers are eliminated from the playoffs: Bristol Motor Speedway (Sept. 19), Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 11), Martinsville Speedway (Nov. 1)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
– 12 drivers, three rounds
– Playoffs begin at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 26)
– Scheduled cutoff races, where four drivers are eliminated from the playoffs: Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 10) and Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 31)

NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series
– 10 drivers, three rounds
– Playoffs begin at Bristol Motor Speedway (Sept. 17)
– Scheduled cutoff races: Talladega Speedway (Oct. 3; two drivers eliminated) and Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30; four drivers eliminated)

The points

Throughout the regular season, drivers in all three national series earn playoff points to be used in the postseason. The playoff points procedure is uniform across all three national series and continues in the playoffs for drivers who remain in contention.

Ways drivers earn playoff points:
– Win Stage 1 or Stage 2 in a race: 1 playoff point (point awarded per stage win)
– Win a race: 5 playoff points
– Win the regular-season championship: 15 playoff points

Second place in the final regular-season standings earns 10 playoff points, third place receives eight points, and the points awarded decline to one point for 10th (fourth = seven points, fifth = six points, etc.).

Championship-contending drivers can accumulate additional playoff points throughout the playoffs via stage and race wins and may use all the playoff points they earn, from both the regular season and the playoffs, to advance all the way up to the Championship 4.

Playoff points are added to a championship-contending driver’s reset points total at the start of every round of the NASCAR Playoffs until they are eliminated from championship contention.

If a driver accumulates playoff points during the regular season but does not qualify for the playoffs, their playoff points are eliminated from the scoreboard.

At Phoenix Raceway, playoff points are off the table and the Championship 4 drivers enter the “winner-take-all” race on equal ground.

For example: Kevin Harvick is the top seed in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. Harvick won the regular-season championship (15 playoff points), seven races (35 total playoff points) and seven stages (7 playoff points). Therefore, he has 57 playoff points. When the point totals reset to 2,000 for every playoff driver, Harvick began the postseason with 2,057 points — already 57 points ahead of 16th seed Matt DiBenedetto.