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Who’s Qualified for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and Who’s Still Desperately Trying to Punch Their Ticket?
While some wheelmen have already staked their claim, several familiar faces teeter on the precipice of utter disappointment.
The competition among NASCAR’s top flight is already hot, but with only a handful of races remaining until the playoffs, the 2023 Cup Series is now primed to explode.
As NASCAR’s elite wheelmen ready themselves to next wage war on Brooklyn, Michigan’s two-mile oval in this weekend’s FireKeepers Casino 400, the biggest surprise of the rapidly approaching playoffs isn’t who has punched his ticket to compete for glory, but who has not.
The season is ticking down to the wire for eager hopefuls, since after this weekend’s 106th Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway, racers will only have three more chances to prove themselves worthy of a postseason invite: Indianapolis, Watkins Glen and Daytona.
With so many seeking one of the final four spots, redemption might be close, but failure could be even closer. Here’s a look at who’s in and who’s still out of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Who has qualified for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs?
So far, Martin Truex Jr., William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, Ross Chastain, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, and Chris Buescher have qualified.
Martin Truex Jr.
With his three wins on the season, Cup Series points leader Martin Truex Jr. punched his playoff ticket long ago. Despite compiling multiple dominant performances this year, the 43-year-old driver in the No. 19 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing is publicly contemplating retirement. Should he cruise to the title, it could be the last time fans see the 2017 Cup Series champ competing in NASCAR’s top flight.
Like Truex Jr., William Byron’s success began early in the season after he captured back-to-back victories in March, first in Las Vegas, followed by Phoenix. Of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, Byron’s four wins top them all.
Despite arguably taking a villain turn in the Cup Series after his controversial walling of Kyle Larson at Pocono, Denny Hamlin is all smiles as his two wins this year have positioned the wily vet for the last laugh, finally garnering his first Cup Series title.
With his dirt victory at Bristol Motor Speedway, 28-year-old Christopher Bell is set for his third trip to the Cup Series Playoffs, piloting JGR’s third car in this year’s postseason.
In his first season back with Richard Childress Racing, veteran wheelman Kyle Busch has amassed three sensational wins, reminding everyone of what made the 38-year-old Las Vegas native a two-time Cup Series champion.
Ross Chastain has been a little quiet down the stretch, but Trackhouse Racing’s perennial bad boy with a mean right cross is locked into the postseason after capturing the checkered flag at Nashville Superspeedway back in June.
The two-time Cup Series champion and reigning victor first earned playoff entry back in March with his win at Atlanta but, along with his seven top-five finishes, Team Penske’s driver also has four DNFs, perhaps casting doubt on his shot at a repeat title-winning performance.
Having tasted glory once with his title in 2021, Kyle Larson has his eye set on NASCAR’s ultimate prize once again and, after notching three impressive victories, including the All-Star race in North Wilkesboro Speedway’s first return to Cup Series competition in three decades, the 31-year-old Yung Money is a favorite to claim the podium this time around.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Piloting the No. 47 Chevrolet Camaro for JTG Daugherty Racing, 35-year-old Ricky Stenhouse Jr. secured his biggest victory in the Cup Series this year with his superb Daytona 500 win.
In his first year driving for Michael Jordan’s 23 XI Racing, Tyler Reddick is currently ranked 12th in the Cup Series with his solo win coming at the Circuit of the Americas back in March.
Now in his sixth full-time year for Team Penske, Ryan Blaney sits in the ninth spot, thanks to winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Driving the No. 17 Ford Mustang for RFK Racing in his ninth year in the Cup Series, Chris Buescher is the most recent race winner on the circuit after winning the Cook Out 400 at Richmond.
Who has not yet qualified for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs?
Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Bubba Wallace, Brad Keselowski, and Daniel Suarez are among those who have not yet qualified.
Though he won the 2020 Cup Series Championship and has been voted as NASCAR’s most popular driver for five consecutive years, 27-year-old Chase Elliott has never found the right gear this season after a snowboarding incident sidelined him for six races and a costly penalty for wrecking Hamlin tacked on another missed event. Ranked 20th at 40 points below the cutoff, Elliott has been gaining on Michael McDowell, but the light is dimming on his prospects of clinching a playoff berth.
The ultimate OG of the NASCAR Cup Series is set to retire after this season and, while his 634 points are good enough to currently claim the sixth spot in the standings, without a win, Kevin Harvick's at risk of being cast aside for the postseason if there are 16 different race winners. In order for the uber competitive 2014 Cup champ to ensure he has a shot at a coveted second title, he’ll want to capitalize on the upcoming race at Michigan where he’s triumphed six times in the past.
Idling at 15th in the standings with 506 points, Bubba Wallace is still seeking his first Cup Series playoff berth. With his four top-five finishes to balance out his five DNFs, MJ’s wheelman has knocked on the door a few times, but ultimately only to come up short.
Like his veteran amigo Harvick, if there are not 16 unique winners when the 2023 Cup Series season ends, Brad Keselowski’s current points standing in 11th place would give him a green flag to proceed into the postseason. That said, according to FOX Sports, he missed the playoffs last year for the first time in 15 seasons.
Daniel Suarez, a playoff driver in 2022, is still winless in his third full-time season for Trackhouse. In 19th place with an advancing Elliott hot on his heels, perhaps his best chance at locking in his postseason lies at Watkins Glen where he secured a fifth-place finish in 2022.