NASCAR playoffs, explained: Final race schedule, format for 16 drivers who made 2021 Cup Series cutoff

NASCAR has reached the playoff stage of the 2021 Cup Series season. The regular season wrapped up Saturday, Aug. 28, with the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. The race’s results finalized the 16-driver field and determined the starting order for the opening Round of 16. 

Sporting News breaks down the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, including the drivers, format and dates for the 10 races that will decide a series champion for 2021.

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Who made the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs in 2021?

Sixteen drivers advanced to the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Kyle Larson won the regular-season points championship and earned the No. 1 seed in the playoff field. Tyler Reddick completed the field on the final night of the regular season in the Coke Zero Sugar 400, holding off teammate Austin Dillon and getting help with playoff driver Ryan Blaney winning the race.

Seven of the 16 playoff drivers are past Cup Series champions: Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick.

How do the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs work?

The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs consist of four rounds: the Round of 16, the Round of 12, the Round of 8 and the Championship 4. The Round of 16, Round of 12 and Round of 8 consist of three races each. The Championship 4 is a one-race, four-driver showdown for the NASCAR Cup. 

All playoff drivers begin the Round of 16 with 2,000 playoff points. NASCAR then adds the bonus points the drivers earned during the regular season: for race wins (five points per win), stage wins (one point per stage win) and finishing in the top 10 in the regular-season standings (15 points for first place, nine points for second place and, finally, down to one point for 10th place). The final points totals set the starting order for the Round of 16.

NASCAR will also reset the points totals for each round: to 3,000 points (plus playoff bonus points) for the Round of 12, to 4,000 points (plus playoff bonus points) for the Round of 8 and to 5,000 points for the Championship 4.

Playoff drivers advance to the next round by winning a race or finishing a round with enough points to be above the cutoff line. The bottom four drivers at the end of each of the first three rounds are eliminated. Eventually, just four drivers will still be alive for the Championship 4 race at Phoenix.

NASCAR Cup Series 2021 playoffs schedule

Round of 16

Round of 12

Round of 8

Championship 4 race

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