Ten races remain until the playoffs begin. With only six different winners, a number of playoff spots likely will be set based on points.
But points also will be critical in the top 10 in the standings. Playoff points are awarded to the regular-season champion (15 playoff points) all the way to 10th in the standings (one playoff point). The race for playoff points continue this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway showed how key points could be. Consider these examples:
# Denny Hamlin finished fifth but scored the most points with 51.
How Hamlin did it: He won the second stage (10 points) and finished second in the opening stage (nine points). Those 19 points were significant.
What it means: Even though Hamlin finished fifth to winner Martin Truex Jr., Hamlin gained seven more points than Truex (51-44). Truex is fifth in the season standings and leads Hamlin by one point. They’re both racing to be as high in the points to get as many bonus playoff points. Sunday was a key day for Hamlin.
# William Byron finished 19th but had the fifth-most points in the race with 36.
How Byron did it: He won the first stage (10 points) and finished third in the second stage (eight points). Those 18 points were huge for him.
What it means: Byron finished two spots behind Daniel Suarez but scored 16 more points because of crew chief Chad Knaus’ focus on scoring as many stage points as possible instead of pitting Byron before the end of both stages (as Suarez did). That’s key because Suarez now leads Byron by two points for 13th in the season standings. Should there be some new winners this year, it will mean there will be fewer playoff spots via points. So the higher in points, the better. Every position could be critical. Also important to note is that Bryon’s 36 points were three times as many points as he scored at Sonoma last year.
# Kyle Larson finished 10th but had the third-most points with 39.
How Larson did it: He finished fourth in the first stage (seven points). He finished sixth in the second stage (five points). Those 12 points were key for him.
What it means: Larson entered the race five points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who held the final playoff spot. Larson remains 15th in the season standings but has a 17-point lead on the last playoff spot, now manned by Ryan Newman.
# Joey Logano held on to his points lead despite finishing 23rd.
How Logano did it: A 23rd-place finish is worth 14 points but Logano finished the day with 29 points. He finished third in the first stage (eight points) and was fourth in the second stage (seven points).
What it means: Logano leads Kyle Busch (37 points after a runner-up finish) by one point atop the season standings. The regular-season champion gets 15 playoff points and second gets 10 points so there’s something at stake for both in the remaining 10 regular-season races.