More Cup teams playoff eligible after seven races than in first three years of format

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After seven races in the NASCAR season, the sport’s premier series is experiencing its highest level of parity this early since the introduction of the current playoff format in 2014.

Drivers and teams become eligible for the one of the 16 spots in playoffs with a race win. Any spot not filled by a race winner is filled by points.

Jimmie Johnson‘s win Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway put the number of teams and drivers eligible for the playoffs via wins at six each ahead of the Easter break this weekend.

For teams, that’s the most organizations that have become eligible since the format was introduced. Four teams were eligible in each of the first three years.

Six drivers is the second most since the seven that qualified in 2014.

Teams and drivers that are eligible for the playoffs through seven races: Stewart-Haas Racing (Kurt Busch), Team Penske (Brad Keselowski), Furniture Row Racing (Martin Truex Jr.), Richard Childress Racing (Ryan Newman), Chip Ganassi Racing (Kyle Larson) and Hendrick Motorsports (Jimmie Johnson).

The parity is helped by Richard Childress Racing, Furniture Row Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing winning races this early for the first time under the win-and-in format.

Joe Gibbs Racing was shut out of Victory Lane before the off-week for the first time under the format. JGR qualified two drivers in 2014 and 2016 and one driver in 2015.

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Hendrick, Penske and Stewart-Haas have had at least one playoff-eligible driver through sevens race in each season.

Hendrick has never had more than one driver eligible through seven races.

Here’s which teams and drivers were eligible at this point in the first three years of the current playoff format and how many teams were eligible at the end of the regular season.

2014; four teams/seven drivers: Hendrick Motorsports (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), Stewart-Haas Racing (Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch), Team Penske (Kesleowski, Joey Logano), Joe Gibbs Racing (Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch).

End of regular season: Eight teams/16 drivers

2015; four teams/five drivers: Team Penske (Logano, Keselowski), Hendrick Motorsports (Johnson), Stewart-Haas Racing (Harvick), Joe Gibbs Racing (Denny Hamlin).

End of regular season: Eight teams/16 drivers

2016; four teams/five drivers: Joe Gibbs Racing (Hamlin, Kyle Busch), Hendrick Motorsports (Johnson), Team Penske (Keselowski), Stewart-Haas Racing (Harvick).

End of season: Eight teams/16 drivers

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