Livescore Thursday, April 25

The NASCAR Cup Series playoff field is starting to take shape.

Ten drivers have won races over the first 16 races of the 2023 season. That currently leaves six spots for winless drivers with 10 races remaining before the postseason begins at Darlington in September.

With drivers like Ross Chastain, Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott still winless, the number of winless drivers in the playoffs will assuredly be smaller than six. Will 15 different drivers win a race before the end of the regular season like a season ago? That’s unlikely. We think this year’s number will be 13.

As the Cup Series enters its only off week of the regular season, we figured it was a good time to take a look at the contenders to be a part of the 16-driver playoff field.

Will make the postseason

Byron is tied for the series lead with three wins and is second in the points standings. He’s scored the most points of any driver so far this season but trails Martin Truex Jr. in the standings by 13 thanks to a 60-point penalty for car modifications at Richmond.

Busch also has three wins and is tied with Byron with the most playoff points so far at 17. Busch’s transition to Richard Childress Racing has gone about as well as it could have so far with nine top-10 finishes. Only Truex has a better average finish than Busch.

Truex is bouncing back from his winless 2022 in a big way. He scored the fourth Sonoma win of his career on Sunday and has a series-best average finish of 11.4. If we had to make a pick for the 2023 Cup Series title right now, we’d probably go with Truex.

Larson is the BetMGM favorite to win the title despite an average finish of 16.5 so far this season. Why is that number so bad? Well, Larson has crashed out of five races so far this season. Since winning his second race of the season, Larson has finishes of 33rd, 32nd, second, 20th, 30th, fourth and eighth.

A berth is almost guaranteed

All of the drivers in this category have one win so far this season and are going to be in the playoffs unless they don’t win another regular-season race and seven or more winless drivers get a win over the last 10 races of the season. Blaney is third in the points and is one of four drivers with nine top-10 finishes.

Bell also has nine top-10 finishes and is just 32 points from the points lead despite sitting in seventh in the standings. Bell has cooled off a bit after scoring six top-six finishes in the first eight races of the season.

Hamlin has led laps in 12 of 16 races so far this season. He dropped from fourth to eighth in the standings after Chase Elliott wrecked him early in the Coca-Cola 600. Another win or two over the course of the regular season will go a long way to bolster his title hopes.

The defending Cup Series champion got a win at Atlanta in March and has back-to-back third-place finishes heading into the off-week. Those finishes have catapulted him from 14th to ninth in the standings.

Reddick has shown lots of speed at various points this season but also has four finishes of 33rd or worse. He’s been extremely boom or bust. He has just five finishes between 11th and 30th all season.

The Daytona 500 winner sits 14th in the standings. That’s a pleasant surprise for a driver who hadn’t finished better than 22nd in points in any of the last four seasons.

Looking good on points

Chastain is the top winless driver in the points standings. He sits fourth with five top fives and seven top 10s. But he also enters the off week off a 10th-place finish that snapped a three-race streak of finishes of 22nd or worse.

Harvick has been extremely solid in his final season of Cup competition so far. He’s completed over 98% of laps and has finished 13th or better in 12 races.

A win would be immense

Buescher sits 11th in the points standings and could make the playoffs simply by keeping that spot in the standings. He’s been very good at road courses lately and that’s significant with three road course races remaining before the playoffs.

The 2012 Cup champion sits right behind his teammate Buescher in 12th. It’s clear that Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing is a lot better than it was in 2022, but it’s still a ways away from being a weekly contender in the Cup Series.

Wallace has four top-five finishes and five finishes outside the top 25. He’s shown enough pace to win a race for a third straight season but he’s also failed to finish five of the first 16 races.

Bowman would be a spot higher in the standings and — more significantly — have 60 more points if it wasn’t for a penalty at Richmond. He should work his way up the standings as the regular season goes on thanks to an average finish of 12th and a stellar points-per-race rate. Remember, he missed three races earlier this season because of a fractured vertebra sustained in a sprint car wreck.

Currently on the outside

Suarez’s third season is better than his first but worse than his second. There have been far too many finishes outside the top 20 (nine) to consider Suarez a serious contender to make the playoffs.

Gibbs hasn’t finished better than 13th after four consecutive top-10 finishes in March and April.

Is McDowell bouncing back from a rough stretch? He has finishes of ninth and seventh after five consecutive races outside the top 20. His title odds are appropriately astronomical, but it won’t be a huge shock if he sneaks into the playoffs.

Allmendinger is 20th in the standings with just two top-10 finishes. One came at the Daytona 500 and the other came at Sonoma.

The wild card

Elliott has missed seven races in 2023 thanks to a broken leg and a suspension for crashing Hamlin at Charlotte. Elliott is scoring over 27 points per race and has an average finish that ranks eighth among full-time drivers. But his time missed likely means he’ll need to win a race over the final 10 races of the regular season to qualify for the playoffs.

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