Kyle Busch, Richard Childress Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch hasn’t officially clinched a playoff spot, despite winning Sunday afternoon’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway.
In just his second race behind the wheel of the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, Kyle Busch became the first driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to win at least one race in 19 consecutive seasons, breaking the record that was set by Richard Petty from 1960 to 1977.
Busch’s Pala Casino 400 win at Auto Club Speedway makes him the second winner in two races this year. But what it does not do is officially lock him into this year’s playoffs.
The 16 playoff spots go to the regular season champion, whether he wins any of the regular season’s 26 races or not, and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins. So with 24 regular season races remaining before the four-round, 10-race postseason, there could still be more winners than playoff spots.
That being said, Kyle Busch is relatively safe in terms of locking up what would be his 11th consecutive NASCAR Cup Series playoff berth.
The only way that any race winner would fail qualify for the playoffs is if there are more than 16 regular season winners (or more than 15 with a winless regular season champion).
If there are 17 winners (or 16 with a winless regular season champion), the single-race winner who ranks lowest in points would fail to qualify. If there are 18 (or 17 with a winless regular season champion), the lowest two would fail to qualify, and so on.
Last year, there were 16 different regular season winners and 19 different winners overall, so we came relatively close to seeing a race winner fail to qualify for the postseason. The same could very well be true in 2023, especially given the parity that the Gen 7 car has produced throughout the field since the 2022 season began.
The multi-race winners, of which there are none yet this year, all lock into the playoffs, as there can be no more than 13 of them during the regular season. Even if the regular season champion is winless, only 14 of the 16 spots would end up being occupied by such drivers.
Through two races, Busch sits in eighth place in the point standings, one spot behind Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. of JTG Daugherty Racing.
While the standings could shift quite a bit moving forward, since the current sample size of two races is relatively small, it is highly unlikely that the two-time champion and ninth winningest driver in Cup Series history will end up being bumped out of the 16-car playoff field by the time the regular season concludes.