Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson technically didn’t lock up a spot in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with his victory on Sunday afternoon at Richmond Raceway.
After experiencing a “what could have been” type of start to the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, 2021 champion Kyle Larson broke through for his first win of the season — and the 20th of his career — on Sunday afternoon at Richmond Raceway’s Toyota Owners 400.
Teammate William Byron dominated the race, but a strong final pit stop from the No. 5 team — and Byron having his race ruined by ensuing contact — put Larson in position to capitalize.
Ironically, Larson dominated the race at Phoenix Raceway, which was won by Byron, a few weeks ago. This time, roles were somewhat reversed.
But Kyle Larson isn’t yet officially locked into the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
As far as the reason why this point is driven home after every single new winner, the reasoning is simple: not everybody is familiar with how the playoff format works.
No, it’s not exactly a “win and in” system.
Does Larson have a 99.9% chance to qualify for the playoffs following his first win of the year? Absolutely, if not more.
But it’s not yet official because of the fact that there can still be more than 16 different winners in the regular season, as there have already been six in seven races. There are still 19 races remaining on the regular season schedule.
Byron is the only driver with two wins so far, having won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway.
JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won at Daytona International Speedway, Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch won at Auto Club Speedway, Team Penske’s Joey Logano won at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick won at Circuit of the Americas.
The 16 playoff spots officially go to the regular season champion, even if he doesn’t win any races, and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins. If there are more than 16 different winners, the tiebreaker among single-race winners to determine who gets in and who doesn’t becomes points.
Because there can only be 13 multi-race winners in the regular season, Byron is the only driver who is officially locked into this year’s playoffs so far, as winning twice is the only way to secure a spot with this many races remaining in the regular season.
But Larson has very little to worry about, as he is sitting in a pretty good position in the point standings, especially after being given back 100 points following Hendrick Motorsports’ semi-successful appeal of a recent penalty. He sits in a sixth place tie in the standings with Logano.
As for the other single-race winners, Busch sits in eighth place, Reddick sits in 13th, and Stenhouse sits in 16th. Aside from Byron in fourth, nobody in the top five has won yet this year.
The 2023 season’s eighth race, the Food City Dirt Race, is scheduled to take place this Easter Sunday, April 9. It is set to be broadcast live on Fox from Bristol Motor Speedway beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET. Kyle Busch is the reigning winner. Start a free trial of FuboTV and do not miss it!