The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are now set. With William Byron taking the victory in Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 to close out the regular season, he and fifteen other drivers will do battle for the championship over ten races and four rounds.
Kevin Harvick enters the postseason as the regular season champion, with 2,057 points via 57 playoff points earned from stage wins. It has been a dominant year for the 2014 champion, who leads all drivers in wins (seven: Darlington 1, Atlanta, Pocono 1, Indianapolis, Michigan 1 and 2, Dover 2), 17 top-five finishes, and 21 top tens. He is the only driver with at least twenty top tens in the regular season. If he wins another race during the playoffs, he will tie a career high in victories, equaling his total in 2018. 2020 will be Harvick’s eleventh straight playoff appearance and fourteenth of his career; since the elimination format was introduced in 2014, he has reached the final round in all but one season.
If Harvick was not in Victory Lane, chances are high that Denny Hamlin was instead. Still hunting for his first Cup title after cracking the Championship Round in 2019, he has tied last year’s win total with six, including the season-opening Daytona 500. Other wins came at Darlington 2, Homestead, Pocono 2, Kansas, and Dover 1. With the exception of an injury-plagued 2013, he has qualified for the playoffs every year since his rookie season in 2006.
In position three with three wins is Brad Keselowski. The 2012 titlist has three wins at the Coca-Cola 600, Bristol, and New Hampshire to go with 19 top tens—the second most among all drivers behind Harvick—and nine top fives in 2020. He will be in his ninth playoff; Keselowski has only made the final round once, in 2017.
Keselowski’s Team Penske team-mate and 2018 champion Joey Logano enjoyed a hot start to the season, winning two of the first four races (Las Vegas and Phoenix) before the circuit was halted by COVID-19. Although Logano has not won a race since the resumption, he is seeded fourth with two wins, six top fives, and 14 top tens. 2020 will be his seventh career playoff run.
2020 has been a rough season for Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet, the latter being a distant last in the manufacturer’s standings with just five wins. However, Chase Elliott has been a bright spot with two wins at Charlotte and the Daytona road course, and also won the All-Star Race at Bristol in July. His 15 top tens and ten top fives lead all Chevy drivers. The fan favourite prepares for his fifth playoff, having made the postseason every year but has yet to crack the Championship Four.
Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 champion, has just one win in 2020 at Martinsville. However, he was one of just four drivers with double-digit top fives prior to the regular season finale, while his 17 top tens are tied with Hamlin for the third most. Truex has reached the Championship Round every year since 2017 and has been part of the postseason on seven occasions.
Ryan Blaney‘s lone win of the season came in wild fashion at Talladega. The youngest driver in the Penske stable, he enters his fourth career postseason with 11 top tens and eight top fives.
Alex Bowman punched his ticket to the playoffs for the third straight year with a win at Fontana. However, his solid start to the season has since fizzled with bad luck and poor finishes; he has just eight top tens, the fewest of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers even with one of his team-mates not making the playoffs.
Seeded ninth is William Byron, who punched his ticket to the playoffs after winning his first career Cup race on Saturday, beating out his Hendrick team-mate Jimmie Johnson. It had been a rough third year for Byron, who failed to record a top five until the final two races of the regular season, but he stepped up when it mattered the most. He enters his second career playoff with nine top tens and seven playoff points.
2020 has seen both highs and lows for Austin Dillon, the ninth seed in his fourth career playoff. In July, he won his first race since 2018 at Texas as he led a Richard Childress Racing 1–2 finish, but missed the Daytona road course a month later after testing positive for COVID-19. He enters the playoffs with a win, two top fives, and seven top tens.
Many did not expect Cole Custer to be the first—and only—rookie to win a race in the regular season, but that is what he did at Kentucky. With just six top tens, he has the fewest such finishes among the playoff drivers, while his two top fives are also the lowest among the sixteen, tied with Dillon.
Aric Almirola is the highest-seeded non-race winner and was the king of the random draw. During the system’s usage from May to early August to determine the starting lineups in lieu of qualifying, he drew three poles and seven top-five starting spots in the top five. Despite the lack of wins, he has 14 top tens, tied for the fifth most. The 2020 playoffs will be Almirola’s fourth appearance.
Clint Bowyer only needed three points to secure his spot in the playoffs, and he did it after just one stage. He recorded two top fives, seven top tens, and three stage victories in 2020 as he qualifies for his ninth career postseason.
Fourteenth-seeded Kyle Busch may be one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR, but 2020 has not been kind to the reigning champion. Busch failed to win a race during the regular season for the first time in his career, struggling with unlucky breaks en route to 13 top tens, an average finish of 15.2, his lowest since a one-win campaign in 2014, and a single playoff point (won Stage #1 at Kansas). Nevertheless, he will be in the hunt for his third career title in his thirteenth playoff.
Older brother Kurt Busch has not won the title since the playoffs’ creation in 2004, but he has made the playoffs every year since 2013 (thirteen career appearances). Busch enters the 2020 playoffs with 13 top tens, four top fives, and a playoff point from his Stage #1 win at Pocono 2.
The final spot in the playoffs goes to Matt DiBenedetto, his maiden showing in the postseason. Currently in his first season with Wood Brothers Racing, he has enjoyed a solid season after working his way from the cellar of the Cup Series, scoring seven top tens (tying his 2019 total) and vastly improving his average finish from 18.3 in 2019 to 15.0.