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NASCAR’s chaotic playoff picture now includes a Michael Jordan driver, while at least one top name is about to get screwed

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  • Michael Jordan has a car in the NASCAR playoffs for the first time as Kurt Busch clinched the 15th of 16 spots.
  • The final spot will come down to Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr, or somebody picking up their first win of the season.
  • Jordan could still get a second car in the playoffs if Bubba Wallace wins at Daytona, his best track.

With just one race to go in the regular season, the NASCAR playoff picture got much clearer, as Kurt Busch clinched the penultimate spot without even racing.

Kyle Larson shoved teammate Chase Elliott out of the way for the win on Sunday at Watkins Glen. More importantly for the playoffs, since Larson was not a first-time winner, there can’t be more than 16 winners during the regular season, and now the 15 drivers who have won at least one race are locked into the playoffs.

That includes Busch, who has missed the last five races with a concussion and was the final driver with a win who was still not guaranteed a playoff spot. 

The playoff berth is also the first for second-year team 23XI Racing, co-owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan and NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin. Fellow second-year team, Trackhouse Racing, co-owned by Pitbull and former racer Justin Marks, has both its drivers — Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez — in the playoffs this season.

Daniel Suarez

Daniel Suarez punches a taco piñata after his first career win.

Sean Gardner/Getty Images


15 drivers and 2 scenarios for final playoff spot

The final playoff spot will now come down to the regular-season finale in Daytona. There are two scenarios, and both guarantee that at least one top driver will get screwed:

  • Ryan Blaney vs. Martin Truex Jr on points — If Daytona is won by a driver already in the playoffs, the final spot will come down to the points standings. Ryan Blaney, third in points this season, is the highest-ranked driver without a win or a playoff spot, and Truex, sixth in the standings and 25 points behind Blaney, is the only driver who can catch him. 
  • A winless driver wins Daytona — If a first-time winner wins the Daytona race and is in the top 30 in the points standings, they get the final playoff spot. Blaney and Truex are two of the 15 drivers who can still get in by this route. 

Points are overly complicated in NASCAR, but the clearest path for Truex without winning the race would be to finish at least 26 places ahead of Blaney in Daytona. That challenge becomes easier if Truex can pick up more points than Blaney during the race by finishing the first or second stage in the top 10 and ahead of Blaney.

Jordan and 23XI Racing could still get a second car into the playoffs if Bubba Wallace can win this week at his favorite track (Wallace has three runner-up finishes at Daytona and his only win came on another superspeedway at Talladega).

Another notable driver who could still knock out Blaney and Truex is the former champ, Brad Keselowski, who has won at Daytona. Five other drivers who are still alive have won races at Daytona, including Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Michael McDowell, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 

Here is a look at the 15 drivers in the playoffs and the playoff points they have earned that will carry over into the postseason.

NASCAR Playoff Standings



NASCAR


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