NASCAR closed out the month of January by making several rule changes. One, in particular, focused on playoff eligibility for drivers in all three of the national series.
In previous seasons, drivers could win and automatically secure a spot in the playoffs, provided they were above a certain threshold. They had to be top 20 in points in the Craftsman Truck Series and Xfinity Series. They had to be top 30 in points in the Cup Series.
These rules are no longer in place. If a full-time driver wins a race, they will automatically slot into one of the available playoff spots. Though they will still have to complete every event on the schedule or receive a waiver from NASCAR that covers any missed events.
Of course, the points will still play a role in certain situations. For example, if there are more than 12 winners in the Xfinity Series, the one lowest in the points standings will still miss the playoffs.
These Rules Nearly Came Into Play During the 2022 Season
One reason why this points rule mattered in previous seasons is that there were certain events where smaller teams could potentially stun the field and deliver a win. The races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway were both examples.
The rule almost came into play during the 2022 Cup Series season, courtesy of Corey LaJoie and Spire Motorsports. The driver of the No. 7 finished fifth overall in the first trip to Atlanta Motor Speedway, and then he led 19 laps during the summer race at the track.
LaJoie was in a position to potentially capture the win during the second Atlanta race, but a block from Chase Elliott sent him hard into the wall and relegated him to a 21st-place finish.
LaJoie was running second at the time of the incident. If he had not hit the wall after the block, there was a scenario where he could have won the Cup Series race. However, LaJoie would not have been automatically in the playoffs.
The veteran driver was outside of the top 30 in points at the time of the race, so he would have had to stack as many points as possible in the remaining regular-season races. No one knows if he would have worked his way inside of the top 30.
This Rule Potentially Increases the Intensity During Plate Races
The races that take place at full-size and mini-superspeedways are already intense by nature. Drivers regularly make aggressive moves while pushing each other, which only leads to massive wrecks.
Another reason why these races are so intense is that smaller teams have better opportunities to contend for strong finishes and wins. They may struggle to run inside of the top 20 at intermediate or short tracks, but they can build strong superspeedway cars.
Will the altered playoff eligibility lead to more intensity? There is a scenario where this happens. If a smaller team is in a position to win at a superspeedway and capture a playoff spot now that they don’t have to worry about points standings, it’s very possible that the driver will do whatever it takes to get the job done. Wins mean so much more than consistency in this playoff era.