Written by Justin Malone, guest writer
After an extraordinarily chaotic season of 26 races, the NASCAR Qualifiers are finally starting in full gear. 16 drivers are now competing for the Bill France Cup, which will be given to the match champion in November, and a chance to put their names in NASCAR history.
Unlike any other season in recent years, 15 different drivers took the checkered flag home, automatically qualifying for a playoff bid. With the high-stakes nature of the qualifying format, including the disqualification of four drivers after Saturday’s grueling night race at Bristol Speedway, who will come out on top?
Here’s everything you need to know to enjoy the exciting magic of the NASCAR Qualifiers.
How do the NASCAR qualifiers work?:
The NASCAR Qualifiers are built on a four-round elimination style tournament with 10 weeks of non-stop racing, beginning with three weeks each in the Round of 16, Round 12 and Round 8, and then an all-or-nothing race in Championship 4.
Each driver in qualifying starts with 2,000 break points and is ranked based on the number of regular season races they have won. Bonus points are added to a rider’s playoff total based on his performance in the regular season, including race victories, mid-race stage victories, and finishing places.
Drivers advance through the four stages of qualifying in two different ways: by winning a race or earning points for placing above the cut-off line. The four drivers below the cut-off line are eliminated after each round, and the remaining drivers’ points are reset with the pre-ranking qualifying points counted.
Favorites: Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell:
Elliott enters the playoffs with a regular season title under his belt after winning four races, twice as many as any other driver in the Cup Series, and five stage wins. Elliott reached the playoffs with great momentum, initially leading the entire field in points but has struggled so far, finishing 11th at Kansas Speedway last Sunday and dying the last week at Darlington Raceway the previous week. With the rebounding performance, he is still poised to win a cup championship for the second time in three years and is seventh in the playoff standings.
Hamlin sped through qualifying very well, finishing second in back-to-back races. It currently ranks third in the qualifying points standings with 2,097 points, and its #11 Toyota Team is looking to continue its hot streak.
Bale currently leads the entire field with 2,108 points and has climbed his way up the rankings with top 3 performances in Kansas and Darlington. He’s also finished in the top eight in four of his past five races, and already has a ticket in the round of 12.
Underdogs: Alex Bowman and William Byron:
Bowman, although not much talked about, has quietly made big strides in qualifying, and is currently sixth. He’s driven to the top 10 in back-to-back races, including stage wins in Kansas, and can make a rally when necessary or play spoiler for the winners.
Byron has consistently led in the playoffs to date, and has also had two Top 10 Finals in a row. He might be overlooked by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, but don’t count him out for an important playoff.
I look ahead:
For the second week in a row, a driver not in qualifying made a trip to the victory lane. On Sunday, Bubba Wallace claimed his second win of his career in Kansas for 23XI Racing, the team owned by fellow racer Hamlin and Michael Jordan. Eric Jones of Petty GMS Motorsports won in Darlington.
In addition, NASCAR is currently investigating problematic fires in next-generation cars that have greatly affected many drivers, particularly playoff racer Kevin Harvick. The fires were initially attributed to exhaust removal problems that caused rubber to build up from the track and ignite inside the cars.
Join us on Saturday as the field narrows to twelve for the Bass Pro Shops Night race in Bristol.