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USA Insider Race for the Championship

Who’s in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs?

The 2023 post season kicks off September 3 at Darlington Raceway with the Cook Out Southern 500.   

By Andrew Woodin
Crowd cheering during a nascar race

The NASCAR Cup Series regular season may have reached its conclusion, but that only means fans who've experienced the highs and low of the last seven months will have to steel themselves for even more adrenaline-pumping mayhem as 16 drivers begin their quest to lift the title. That's right, the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs are about to begin.

Martin Truex Jr. and William Byron have looked the most consistent among the pack, but a focused Denny Hamlin isn’t too far behind, and Chris Buescher has the momentum after his Daytona win. Still, another Hendrick Motorsports driver, Kyle Larson, is here to remind us about his championship pedigree as is another Kyle –– Busch, who will seek to remind fans that this is the time of year when the two-time Cup Series victor transforms into the bad-ass beast Rowdy. Then there’s the Watermelon Man, who’ll likely smash more than just succulent fruit, and we can’t forget about Joey Logano. Sliced Bread’s the reigning champ and will look to defend his crown by any means necessary.

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Will there be drama? You better believe it. Will there be carnage? It won’t exactly look like Peacock’s Twisted Metal – no deranged, marauding clowns that we know of – but the final stretch of the regular season has shown drivers are willing to push the limits of aggressive driving. Ryan Preece’s car doing 10 vicious flips at Daytona is a glaring reminder of that.

No matter how you slice it, the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs are going to be full of epic action so, without further ado, here’s a look at the 16 wheelmen set to trade paint in the 10-race gauntlet, beginning September 3 at Darlington.

William Byron

Rftc William Byron

Rank: 1; Points: 2036

Driving the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, William Byron, a.k.a. “Willy B,” proves that even a baby face can hide an assassin behind the wheel. Byron started hot and is now on fire, boasting a circuit-best five wins (Las Vegas, Phoenix, Darlington, Atlanta and Watkins Glen). If he can make to Phoenix, he’ll have a serious chance to win the title after scoring a victory there in March.

Martin Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr.

Rank: 2; Points: 2036

While Byron has more wins, the veteran wheelman of Joe Gibbs Racing is right there with him in points. He's been consistently faster than the competition, notching three wins (Los Angeles, Dover and Sonoma) along the way. The 2017 champ has won three times at Martinsville, so look for him to make a valiant stand on the short track.

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin

Rank: 3; Points: 2025

Though whispers continue circulate about his future with Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin has maintained smooth sailing on the track, even remaining in the hunt for the regular season title despite being docked 25 points for intentionally wrecking Ross Chastain earlier in the season. Like Truex Jr., his destiny lies with a strong performance at Martinsville where he's enjoyed five career wins.

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Chris Buescher

Rank: 4; Points: 2021

Chris Buescher has quietly put together a season worthy of praise, motoring his way to back-to-back wins at Richmond and Michigan. His victory of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona – the final race of the regular season – could be the big momentum booster he needs before heading into Bristol where he won last year.

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch

Rank: 5; Points: 2019

In his first year with Richard Childress Racing, Kyles Busch has three wins on the year and everyone knows you can never truly count him out because the type of greatness Busch possesses means he can truly win anywhere.

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson

Rank: 6; Points: 2017

Larson and the No. 5 Chevy team at Hendrick Motorsports may have stumbled a few times, picking up six DNF’s – superspeedways have been his kryptonite – but he’s also picked up two wins, including one at NASCAR's return to North Wilkesboro Speedway. Homestead-Miami will be a crucial proving ground for Yung Money after he blitzed the pack there last year.

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Christopher Bell

Rank: 7; Points: 2014

After putting on a spectacular show last year to reach the 2022 Championship 4, Christopher Bell is looking to stun NASCAR again, and Martinsville is undoubtedly the key after dominating the track in last year’s playoffs, leading a total of 150 laps during the race. Tack on his success at Charlotte, and the championship prospects for the young gun are bright.

Ross Chastain

Ross Chastain entering his racing car

Rank: 8; Points: 2011

What would the Cup Series playoffs be without a dash of Ross Chastain’s unpredictable nature on the track? The Watermelon Man scored a big win for Trackhouse Racing at Nashville and has plenty more left in the tank. While he won’t be able to wall-ride at Martinsville this time around, look for the No. 1 Chevrolet driver to be on the hunt from the moment the flag drops at Darlington.

Brad Keselowski

Rftc Brad Keselowski2

Rank: 9; Points: 2010

Brad Keselowski may not have won any races, but the 2012 champ has shown consistency matters. It’s hard to call any veteran like the No. 6 Ford wheelman a darkhorse pick to go all the way, but cruising under the radar most of the season will do that. A victory at Talladega for Keselowski would give the record holder his seventh win at the fabled track while setting him up for a postseason surge.

Tyler Reddick

Rank: 10; Points: 2009

Driving the No. 45 Toyota Camry for 23XI and its co-owners, Hamlin and NBA legend Michal Jordan, Tyler Reddick might not get as much attention as his teammate Bubba Wallace, but he’d agree his win at Circuit of the Americas is far more valuable. After being eliminated in the Round of 16 both in 2021 and 2022, Reddick needs to score a win, and Texas, where he’s won before, may be his best opportunity in 2023.

Joey Logano

Joey Logano speaks to the media during the NASCAR Championship 4 Media Day

Rank: 11; Points: 2008

The two-time champ and reigning Cup Series king, along with his No. 22 Ford Penske team, have been relegated to the background down stretch but, if Joey Logano can survive long enough to score a victory at Martinsville where he came in second during the regular season, that could set him up for a shot to repeat. Count on Sliced Bread to also have Las Vegas circled after his victory in last year’s Round of 8.

Ryan Blaney

Ryan Blaney adjusts his ear piece during NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying for the Ambetter Health 400

Rank: 12; Points: 2008

Ryan Blaney may only have one win, but the No. 12 Ford driver for Team Penske knocked on the door of so many others, placing second at Talladega, which will definitely be circled on his playoff calendar. The Martinsville race could also be crucial as he’s notched seven top-five finishes on the short track.

Michael McDowell

Rank: 13; Points: 2007

Though it was only his second win after his 2021 Daytona victory, this year’s road course win at Indianapolis was monumental. Charlotte is an important track for McDowell, as is Talladega where he's scored three top-five finishes. The journeyman driver now with Front Row Motorsports is a big underdog, but this is the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs – anything can happen!

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Rftc Ricky Stenhouse Jr Break In

Rank: 14; Points: 2005

After earning an impressive win at Daytona, where he navigated a massive wreck to surge from 16th to first, the JTG Daugherty wheelman peppered in several top-10 finishes that could help him during the playoffs, including Bristol, Martinsville and Charlotte. A strong finish at Talladega is also not out of the question for Stenhouse Jr. either.

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick leaning against his racing car

Rank: 15; Points: 2004

Kevin Harvick, a.k.a. the Closer, has his sights set on reminding everyone why that’s his nickname as the 2014 Cup Series champions gets ready to embark on his final playoff journey. Harvick narrowly made it into the postseason on points, but if the No. 4 Ford driver for Stewart-Haas Racing can survive until Phoenix, he’d qualify for his sixth Championship 4 appearance, not to mention having the chance to ride off into the sunset in spectacular fashion by capturing his second title.

Bubba Wallace

Chicago Street Race Bubba Wallace2

Rank: 16; Points: 2000

Through his cumulative point total, Wallace eked his way into the playoffs for the first time in his career, but consistency is an area that’s still a bit worrisome for the No. 23 Toyota Camry team at 23XI Racing. Still, if he can execute well on the 1.5-mile track at Kansas Speedway – a course he won on last season after holding strong against his boss, Denny Hamlin – Wallace and company could hatch a meaningful playoff run.