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2021 NASCAR Cup Series: Playoffs schedule, format and odds

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Sixteen drivers will compete to hoist the Bill France Cup as NASCAR Cup Series champion.
USA Today

After 26 regular season races, the 2021 NASCAR playoffs have officially arrived as the series heads to Darlington Raceway on Labor Day Weekend.

The regular season was full of surprises, with 14 winners in 26 races, a record six road course events and a thrilling season-long points battle.

Now, everything is on the line as 16 drivers compete for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Here’s everything you need to know about the NASCAR playoffs:

Who made the NASCAR playoffs in 2021?

As always, 16 drivers qualified for the NASCAR playoffs in 2021. The group includes drivers who won a race this season (as long as they competed full time) and then the remaining highest point-getters among non-winners to fill out the full field of 16.

Here’s the seeding for the playoffs:

  1. Kyle Larson (2,052 points)
  2. Ryan Blaney (2,024 points)
  3. Martin Truex Jr. (2,024 points)
  4. Kyle Busch (2,022 points)
  5. Chase Elliott (2,021 points)
  6. Alex Bowman (2,015 points)
  7. Denny Hamlin (2,015 points)
  8. William Byron (2,014 points)
  9. Joey Logano (2,013 points)
  10. Brad Keselowski (2,008 points)
  11. Kurt Busch (2,008 points)
  12. Christopher Bell (2,005 points)
  13. Aric Almirola (2,005 points)
  14. Michael McDowell (2,005 points)
  15. Tyler Reddick (2,003 points)
  16. Kevin Harvick (2,002 points)

How do the NASCAR playoffs work?

There are four rounds in the NASCAR playoffs: the Round of 16, the Round of 12, the Round of 8 and the Championship 4. There are three races in the first three rounds, with the four lowest drivers in points being eliminated. Drivers can automatically clinch a spot in the next round by winning one of the three races each round. The Championship 4 is one winner-take-all race for the title.

All 16 drivers who qualify for the playoffs have their points reset to 2,000 to start. Before the first playoff race, points are added to each driver’s 2,000 based on how many race wins (five points per win) and stage wins (one point per win) they had during the regular season. Playoff points are also awarded based on regular season standings. Kyle Larson, for example, leads the initial playoff standings with 2,052 points -- 2,000 for qualifying, 25 for his five race wins, 12 for his 12 stage wins and 15 for leading the final regular season standings.

 

Points are reset after each round for the drivers who advance -- 3,000 plus bonus points for the Round of 12, 4,000 plus bonus points for the Round of 8 and 5,000 for the Championship 4. No bonus points are added for the Championship 4, meaning whoever finishes first in the final race is automatically the champion.

What is the NASCAR playoffs schedule?

Every different track type in NASCAR is represented in the playoffs. There’s four intermediates (Darlington, Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas), three short tracks (Richmond, Bristol, Martinsville), one road course (Charlotte), one superspeedway (Talladega) and a unique one-mile intermediate that races like a short track (Phoenix).

Five playoff races will be broadcasted on NBC (Talladega, Charlotte, Texas, Martinsville, Phoenix) and five will be on NBCSN (Darlington, Richmond, Bristol, Las Vegas, Kansas).

Round of 16

  • Cook Out Southern 500, Darlington Raceway (Sept. 5)
  • Federated Auto Parts 400, Richmond Raceway (Sept. 11)
  • Bass Pro Shops Night Race, Bristol Motor Speedway (Sept. 18)

Round of 12

  • South Point 400, Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 26)
  • YellaWood 500, Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 3)
  • Bank of America ROVAL 400, Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course (Oct. 10)

Round of 8

  • Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500, Texas Motor Speedway (Oct. 17)
  • Hollywood Casino 400, Kansas Speedway (Oct. 24)
  • Xfinity 500, Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 31)

Championship 4

  • NASCAR Cup Series Championship, Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 7)

2021 NASCAR playoffs odds

There are seven former champions in the 16-driver playoff field, but none of them are favored to win the 2021 title. That honor belongs to Kyle Larson, winner of a series-best five races this season. Larson’s first season in the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports has gone incredibly well, as the 29-year-old has wins at Las Vegas, Charlotte, Sonoma, Nashville and Watkins Glen.

Ryan Blaney is the second seed after winning back-to-back races at Michigan and Daytona to close the regular season. He had never won more than once in a season before this year, and the 27-year-old Team Penske driver might finally be ready to challenge for a championship.

Past champions Martin Truex Jr. (2017), Kyle Busch (2015, 2019) and Chase Elliott (2020) are seeded third through fifth, respectively. They’ve each won multiple races this year and should all be in contention to win another title. No driver has won consecutive championships since Jimmie Johnson won five straight from 2006 to 2010, so Elliott has a tall task.

Further down the field, Joey Logano (No. 9 seed), Brad Keselowski (No. 10), Kurt Busch (No. 11) and Kevin Harvick (No. 16) are all looking for their second championship. The former three each have just one win in 2021, while Harvick is winless and the lowest seed after visiting victory lane a series-best nine times last season.

Three drivers are making their NASCAR playoffs debut in 2021 -- Christopher Bell (No. 12 seed), Michael McDowell (No. 14) and Tyler Reddick (No. 15). Bell and Reddick are both in their second Cup seasons, while McDowell is a 14-year veteran who got his first career win in the 2021 Daytona 500.

 

Here are the odds to win the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship, courtesy of our partner, PointsBet:

  • Kyle Larson, +270
  • Chase Elliott, +600
  • Kyle Busch, +700
  • Martin Truex Jr., +800
  • Denny Hamlin +900
  • Joey Logano, +1200
  • Brad Keselowski, +1200
  • Alex Bowman, +1400
  • Kevin Harvick, +1500
  • William Byron, +1500
  • Ryan Blaney, +2000
  • Christopher Bell, +2000
  • Kurt Busch, +3500
  • Aric Almirola, +4000
  • Tyler Reddick, +10000
  • Michael McDowell, +15000

Editor's note: All odds are provided by our partner, PointsBet. PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.