As Kevin Harvick celebrated his Big Machine Vodka 400 victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the sixteen drivers vying for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series were confirmed. Along with Harvick, past champions, veterans, and newcomers alike will battle across the ten races for the title.
The 2019 playoffs will begin at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
After reseeding by race wins and playoff/stage points, Joe Gibbs Racing drivers dominate the top three positions. Kyle Busch won the regular season championship after clinching it at the previous week’s Bojangles’ Southern 500. The 2015 champion scored four victories and top-ten finishes in all but five races during the regular season. He is the only driver with at least twenty top tens, while his thirteen top fives are tied for the most. Busch’s winning began in the spring when he won three of five races at ISM Raceway, Auto Club Speedway (his 200th across NASCAR’s three national series), and Bristol Motor Speedway. It would be two more months before he won again at Pocono Raceway.
In second and third are Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., both of whom also have four victories. Like Busch, Hamlin has thirteen top fives to go with his wins; after beginning the 2019 season on a strong note by winning the Daytona 500, he won again at Texas Motor Speedway in the spring. Despite a rough stretch in May and not winning again for four months, he broke his streak by winning the second Pocono race, followed by holding off Matt DiBenedetto for the win at Bristol’s night race.
Truex, who is in his first season with JGR after Furniture Row Racing‘s demise, saw his four wins come in a two-month stretch. The 2017 champ won his first Cup short track race at Richmond Raceway, followed by taking victory at Dover International Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway‘s Coca-Cola 600, and the road course at Sonoma Raceway in June.
Harvick is fifth, sandwiched between a Team Penske pair of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. The reigning series champion, Logano scored two wins during the 2019 regular season. After winning at Las Vegas in March, he would not return to Victory Lane until the rain-delayed FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway in June. Like Truex, Logano has fifteen top tens.
2019 saw a slow start for Harvick as he did not win until the New Hampshire Motor Speedway round in late July. From there, he scored a win at Michigan three races later followed by his Indianapolis triumph. Harvick has seventeen top tens and a series-best five poles.
Keselowski began winning as early as the second race of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway despite a bout with the flu, followed by dominating the Martinsville Speedway race. His latest victory came at Kansas Speedway. The 2012 champ has fourteen top tens and has enjoyed consistency, finishing all but two races; the two DNFs were results of crashes.
Since the switch to the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Hendrick Motorsports has struggled to keep consistent, though Chase Elliott was a bright spot in the team’s efforts. After winning at Talladega Superspeedway in a Hendrick 1–2, he scored his second straight win at Watkins Glen International during the summer after leading all but ten laps from the pole. The reigning Most Popular Driver, Elliott has eleven top tens and a career-high three poles.
The eighth and ninth seeds belong to Chip Ganassi Racing team-mates Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson, respectively. Busch, in his first year with the team, enjoyed his lone win at Kentucky Speedway in July after holding off younger brother Kyle for the finish.
Larson, who has not won since 2017, has a best run of second at Chicagoland Speedway and Darlington to go with his twelve top tens.
Alex Bowman, now in his second full-time season with Hendrick Motorsports, started 2019 struggling to crack the top ten. It would not be until Talladega in May that he scored his first top ten of the year with a second behind team-mate Elliott, kicking off a three-race stretch of runner-up finishes. In July at Chicago, he claimed his first career Cup victory. Bowman has seven top tens in his second playoff appearance.
Erik Jones is eleventh in the playoff grid. After defeating team-mate Kyle Busch at Darlington and receiving an contract extension with the team through 2020, he joins his JGR partners in the playoffs with a thirteen top-ten campaign.
The remaining five seeds did not win a race in the regular season, instead earning their spots through strong points days. Ryan Blaney is twelfth with twelve top tens and a best finish of third at ISM and Sonoma.
After finishing twenty-third in points in 2018, William Byron qualified for his first playoffs with nine top tens and four poles, second-most behind Harvick. His best run is second at Daytona International Speedway in July.
Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Aric Almirola (fourteenth) and Clint Bowyer (fifteenth) have ten and twelve top tens to their name, respectively. Almirola, in his second season with the team, finished fourth at ISM in the spring and took the pole at Atlanta. Of Bowyer’s six top fives, his highest run is third at Richmond.
Ryan Newman squeezed into the playoffs by just four points over Daniel Suárez with his top ten at Indianapolis. In his maiden year with Roush Fenway Racing, he has nine top tens and a best run of fifth at Daytona in July. By taking the final seed, Newman hopes for a repeat of 2014 in which he finished runner-up in the championship to Harvick despite zero wins and beyond.