The 2022 NASCAR Cup season has pretty much thrown out the book on expectations and the norm of what to expect on a race to race basis. Old winners, new winners, drivers we didn’t expect offering great finishes showing up week after week…there’s a lot to process after 5 races. One of the biggest question marks from what we’ve seen so far is in regards to the number of different winners we might see over the course of the season. More importantly, how many different winners might we see by the time the Playoffs come around after 26 races?
We’re 5 for 5 on unique winners after Atlanta and while that’s still a relatively small sample size there’s been a bit of talk on whether we can get to (or exceed) the maximum 16 winners for this “Win and Your In” system.
Quick refresh: any full time driver from the Top 30 in points that wins a Cup race is granted a seed in the Playoffs after the 26th race, with the rest of the 16 car Playoff field filled by highest in points accumulated. There’s a small caveat that the regular season points leader is guaranteed a spot even if they don’t win, but we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. In the up until now highly unlikely event that we have more than 16 winners, the playoff drivers are determined by points among the race winners.
The question at hand: just how likely are we to get anywhere close to 16 winners, and how can we track its progress? To that, I offer The Slow Restart’s Playoff Power Ranking chart.
I for one generally hate whole ass POWER RANKINGS, but after a fairly pathetic slap fight with my editor Jake I relented and gave it a shot. Trying to keep this as simple as possible, the current winners are on the left, with “open” winner spots highlighted in green. The non-winners are broken into three groups that generally indicate their power rankings and likelihood to grab a win. I have a SUPER professional and mathematical formula to determine this, let’s break it down:
SHOULD: These drivers simply “should” win a race by the time race 26 comes around. Some have been remarkably close like Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick, others simply have the resume that says they should win like Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick.
MIGHT: These drivers are showing good strength and at some point in recent memory have put together performances that prove they aren’t that far off from a win. Drivers like Brad Keselowski and Christopher Bell were close calls on this list but given their struggles and/or unique scenarios it seems their hill is a little steeper to climb…only take one win though!
WILD: This is left for the rookies or the ones that are on developing teams. It’s unlikely Justin Haley will be on this side of the chart for long, and Lajoie himself still scored a Top 5 at Atlanta. Still, the best way to think about it is like this: if a driver from this column wins a race, the general fan consensus would be “damn, that’s wild!” Thus, the WILD column was born.
Let’s be clear, this is just one man’s opinion, and this is all open to debate. Don’t get your Wranglers in a bunch if your driver is too far to the right. I believe every driver on this chart can win, and I’m not putting anyone down with where I have them charted. That being said, if all the “SHOULD” drivers get a win, we’d be right at 16 winners, and ANY additional winners from the other columns could upset the apple cart on Playoff seeding.
As the year progresses I’ll put any new winners on the left and try to update the Should, Might, and Wild column when appropriate. Also, as we get closer to the playoff cutoff, I’ll start highlighting those that are lower than 30th in points and make some other points when I think of them.
Think we can get to that magical 17th different winner? It’s gonna be a lot of fun finding out. Let’s get to it at COTA!
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