The Quick and Easy Guide to Understanding NASCAR's Championship Races

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch racing in Phoenix, the final race before the Homestead-Miami Speedway championship.
Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch racing in Phoenix, the final race before the Homestead-Miami Speedway championship.
Photo: Sarah Crabill (Getty Images)

Everyone you know probably jokes that in NASCAR, the person who makes the best left turns is the champion. But deciding the NASCAR champion is far from that simple these days, to the point that you might need a guide to fully grasp what’s going on. Good thing you found one, right?


Yes, yes, I know, we’re doing that bit from Baseketball again. Here we go.

NASCAR’s at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida this weekend for its final event of the year, with its top three levels running a race: the Camping World Truck Series on Friday, Xfinity Series on Saturday and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday. The championship in each series depends completely on what happens in Miami, unlike most other motorsports and much like the Super Bowl in football. All of the drivers left in NASCAR’s “playoffs” start from scratch, and the one who does the best in Miami wins it all.

It’s a bittersweet thing, if you’re a motorsports fan. It means that every race in Miami will be interesting because it almost ensures no one wins the title until the race is over, but it also takes out the typical approach to motorsports where the person with the most points across the season is the champion.

But if you’re looking for some entertainment this weekend, you don’t need to know much about NASCAR or the rest of the race season to understand what’s going on. Here are some simple guidelines for you to understand the races this weekend, ignoring the complicated championship format from the rest of the season that got us to this point (you can read that stuff here):

  • In all three series, there are four drivers left racing for the title.

In the Truck Series on Friday, it’s Brett Moffitt, Johnny Sauter, Justin Haley and Noah Gragson. In Saturday’s Xfinity Series, it’ll be Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Daniel Hemric. In the main Cup Series event on Sunday, it’s between Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano.

  • Everyone else has been eliminated, but they’re still racing.

There are only four drivers who matter for the title, but the rest of the field is still out there racing because they have sponsors to please, people who planned to work this weekend and an all-important battle for 13th place in the final standings to compete for.


(Just FYI, 13th place is not all-important, that was a joke.)

  • In each series, the highest finisher in playoff contention wins the title.

There are no more races, nothing else counts toward this and everyone left racing for the title starts at zero, basically. The points during the race don’t matter in deciding the champion, only the finishing positions do.

  • If all four people in title contention wreck at the same time, it will get sort of messy.

If that wreck totals all four contenders’ cars right there on track and they’re unable to move, it makes the “highest finisher” rule a little harder to officiate. NASCAR doesn’t let wreck-totaled cars come back from the garage to advance their finishing position, so the title race would be done. NASCAR told Jalopnik last year it would decide the finishing order, and thus the champion, by running order at the previous completed lap if the wreck happened anytime before the last lap of the race. If the wreck happened on the last lap of the race, NASCAR would decide based on the running order of the title contenders at the time of the caution. (More on this here.)

  • If the person who wins the title gets “disqualified” after the races, things will get even messier.

Cup Series title contender Harvick had a win “taken away” (it’s complicated) recently during a Wednesday post-race inspection after his victory at Texas Motor Speedway, and if the title winner did something that NASCAR didn’t like, NASCAR said it would take the title away.


NASCAR said last year that for the Cup Series, it does the Wednesday inspection on Sunday at Homestead, so we should know the official winner of the top title that night. (More on Miami penalties and inspection here.)

That might all sound like a lot, but modern NASCAR is a lot to take in. It makes things interesting, if you know how to follow said things.


At the very least, you’ve now got a cheat sheet to look at.

Staff writer, Jalopnik



Really simple....

Ever seen the original Cars Movie.

The silly final tie breaking race... but with 4 cars instead of 3 and everyone else can play too, but they can’t get the Piston Cup.

You know, it’s pretty bad when College football’s playoff system makes more sense.