By Kelly Crandall | Racer.com
It came down the final lap in the last regular-season race, but the playoff grid is set.
Four drivers are new to the grid from last year, and three of the four are playoff first-timers. Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell, and Tyler Reddick are championship eligible for the first time in their careers. Bell and Reddick are in their second NASCAR Cup Series season.
Kyle Larson won the regular-season championship and claimed the extra 15 playoff points. He starts the postseason with a total of 52 playoff points, just shy of the record 57 that Kevin Harvick began with last year. And speaking of Harvick, after winning the regular-season title a year ago, he enters as the 16th seed this season.
Darlington Raceway kicks off the Round of 16. Richmond Raceway is the second race, and Bristol Motor Speedway (back to concrete) is the first round cut race.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, and the Charlotte Roval make up the Round of 12. Texas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, and Martinsville Speedway will trim the field from eight to the Championship 4 going to Phoenix Raceway.
1. Kyle Larson: 2052 points, 52 playoff points
2. Ryan Blaney: 2024 points, 24 playoff points
3. Martin Truex Jr.: 2024 points, 24 playoff points
4. Kyle Busch: 2022 points, 22 playoff points
5. Chase Elliott: 2021 points, 21 playoff points
6. Alex Bowman: 2015 points, 15 playoff points
7. Denny Hamlin: 2015 points, 15 playoff points
8. William Byron: 2014 points, 14 playoff points
9. Joey Logano: 2013 points, 13 playoff points
10. Brad Keselowski: 2008, 8 playoff points
11. Kurt Busch: 2008 points, 8 playoff points
12. Christopher Bell: 2005 points, 5 playoff points
13. Michael McDowell: 2005 points, 5 playoff points
14. Aric Almirola: 2005 points, 5 playoff points
15. Tyler Reddick: 2003 points, 3 playoff points
16. Kevin Harvick: 2002 points, 2 playoff points
Last year, the drivers who were on the playoff grid but missed out this season were Clint Bowyer (retired), Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto, and Austin Dillon.