The playoffs were introduced ahead of the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series season. While the playoff format has changed over the years, with the most recent overhaul coming ahead of the 2014 season, the playoffs still include 10 races before a champion is crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The first two rounds, the round of 16 and the round of 12, of the four-round, 10-race 2019 playoffs are in the books, leaving just four races remaining on the schedule, including the three races of the round of 8 at Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and ISM Raceway and the Championship 4 season finale.
Of the eight drivers remaining in championship contention, five have been victorious at some point since the playoffs began back in mid-September at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Joe Gibbs Racingâs Martin Truex Jr. won the first two races of the playoffs at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Richmond Raceway before Hendrick Motorsportsâ Chase Elliott closed out the round of 16 with a comeback victory at the Charlotte Motor Speedway roval.
Chip Ganassi Racingâs Kyle Larson and Team Penskeâs Ryan Blaney then ended lengthy win droughts, a more than two-year win drought for Larson and a more than one-year win drought for Blaney, by winning the races at Dover International Speedway and Talldega Superspeedway, respectively, to open up the round of 12. Joe Gibbs Racingâs Denny Hamlin then closed out the round of 12 with a victory at Kansas Speedway.
This leaves three round of 8 drivers who have not yet won a playoff race. In fact, two of these drivers havenât won since June.
Stewart-Haas Racingâs Kevin Harvick won three races in the regular season, the latest of which being the regular season finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But Joe Gibbs Racingâs Kyle Busch, winner of four regular season races, is riding an 18-race win drought after winning the race at Pocono Raceway in June, and Team Penskeâs Joey Logano, winner of two regular season races, is riding a 17-race win drought after winning the race at Michigan International Speedway eight days later.
Why is this significant heading into the round of 8?
These three drivers were all in last yearâs Championship 4, and all are champions. In fact, all are champions in the current era of the playoff format, with Harvick winning the 2014 title, Busch winning the 2015 title and Logano winning the 2018 title.
Busch has been in each of the last four Championship 4 rounds, as he only failed to compete in the round back in 2014. Harvick has been in four of the five Championship 4 rounds as well, only failing to qualify for it back in 2016. Busch and Harvick have been in the round together in both of the last two seasons. Logano, meanwhile, was in the Championship 4 back in 2014 and 2016 in addition to 2018 when he won the title.
But if none of these drivers can find victory lane before the season ends, history says they wonât be crowned champion come mid-November.
Only one driver has won a championship without winning a playoff race during the playoff era, and that was Tony Stewart. Stewart, a three-time champion, won two of his three championships in the playoff era after winning his maiden title in the 2002 season, and in the 2005 season, he was crowned champion despite the fact that he did not win a playoff race.
A total of 13 seasons have come and gone since then, and all 13 have resulted in champions with at least one playoff race victory.
Busch and Harvick have both had mild success so far in the playoffs. Both have recorded a second place finish and a third place finish, and Harvickâs average finish through the first six races of the playoffs is 7.00, the best among all drivers.
Logano, however, advanced to the round of 8 by the skin of his teeth. He is still seeking his first top eight finish since the regular season ended. His average finish of 15.33 thus far in the playoffs is the worst among the remaining eight drivers.
Want your voice heard? Join the Beyond The Flag team!
Will Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano or any combination of the three former NASCAR Cup Series champions return to this yearâs Championship 4, and will one of them be crowned champion for the second time? If that is the case, they will more than likely have to win at least one playoff race, just as 14 of the 15 champions of the playoff era have done.