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A reasonably early look at the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoff picture and who needs to step up

Following Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, we’ve officially hit the halfway point in the 26-race regular season. And through the first 13 races, there have been 11 different winners with William Byron and Ross Chastain as the lone repeat winners so far.

And all those winners can breathe a little and look ahead to the playoffs beginning in September.

The top-16 drivers in the standings after the regular season — which ends at Daytona International Speedway in August — will advance to the 10-race playoffs.

Those 11 race winners have already locked themselves into the postseason — assuming there won’t be more than 16 different winners by the end of the first 26 races, which would be unexpected but certainly not impossible — especially when you consider the heavy hitters who have yet to make it to Victory Lane. For drivers who have won a race, they also need to be in the top 30 in points at the end of the regular season to be eligible.

So sure, there’s still half the regular season to go, but it’s never too early to see what the playoff picture looks like. Here’s a look at the top-25 drivers in the standings, along with their projected playoff rank and points, as NASCAR presses pause on the points races for the All-Star Race on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

1
Chase Elliott, No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

(Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports)

Regular season points: 475
Projected playoff rank: 1
Projected playoff points: 2022

2022 wins:  1
Top-5 finishes: 3
Laps led: 359

The last of the four Hendrick drivers to end up in Victory Lane this season, Elliott finally won his first checkered flag earlier this month at Dover International Speedway. But despite having just the one win, he’s got a solid hold at the top of the driver standings. And with a few road course races coming up this summer, he should be able to grab at least another win before the playoffs begin.

2
Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Team Penske Ford

(Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports)

Regular season points: 423 (-52)
Projected playoff rank: 5
Projected playoff points: 2014

2022 wins: 0
Top-5 finishes: 4
Laps led: 371

Although he’s the only Team Penske driver who hasn’t won a race yet this season, Blaney’s been toward the top of the standings for much of the season.  He’s come close a couple times with fourth-place finishes at both Phoenix Raceway and Martinsville Speedway, but he’ll still need a victory to guarantee his spot in the playoffs.

3
Kyle Busch, No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

(Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Regular season points: 417 (-58)
Projected playoff rank: 4
Projected playoff points: 2014

2022 wins: 1
Top-5 finishes: 4
Laps led: 243

Busch was a surprise winner at Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt race in April, taking advantage when last-lap chaos ensued ahead of him. Since that win, he’s had two third-place finishes, first at Talladega Superspeedway and on Sunday at Kansas. He could be a good bet to win another regular-season race, maybe at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600 or at Pocono Raceway later this summer.

4
William Byron, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

(Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Regular season points: 415 (-60)
Projected playoff rank: 2
Projected playoff points: 2020

2022 wins: 2
Top-5 finishes: 4
Laps led: 569

Byron became this season’s first two-time winner by taking the checkered flags at Atlanta Motor Speedway and then at Martinsville. However, since his second win, he’s hit a bit of a rough patch with five finishes in the double digits. His best finish in that stretch was 13th at Darlington Raceway when he was the victim of Joey Logano’s bump-and-run move late in the race.

5
Ross Chastain, No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet

(John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

Regular season points: 407 (-68)
Projected playoff rank: 3
Projected playoff points: 2018

2022 wins: 2
Top-5 finishes: 7
Laps led: 273

The watermelon man is having a fantastic season with two checkered flags — first at Circuit of The Americas and then at Talladega — and more than twice as many top-5 finishes this season as he’s had in his previous three full-time seasons. And through 13 races, he’s already matched his career-high of eight top-10 finishes. He and Trackhouse could continue to impress and grab another win before the regular season ends.

6
Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

(Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Regular season points: 400 (-75)
Projected playoff rank: 9
Projected playoff points: 2008

2022 wins:  0
Top-5 finishes:  2
Laps led: 130

The last time Truex went the first 13 races of a season without a win was back in 2015 when he was still driving the No. 78 car for Furniture Row Racing. His first victory that year was at Pocono, the 14th race of that season. Truex feels bound for a win one of these weekends, and it could be in the next points race, the Coca-Cola 600 — a race he’s won twice before.

7
Joey Logano, No. 22 Team Penske Ford

(AP Photo/Matt Kelley)

Regular season points: 396 (-79)
Projected playoff rank: 6
Projected playoff points: 2010

2022 wins: 1
Top-5 finishes: 4
Laps led: 142

Logano is an aggressive racer who surely doesn’t make too many friends in the garage. But his bold moves sometimes pay off, like when he bumped Byron out of the way at Darlington to grab his first win of the season. But whether he gets a second victory this season or finishes with his third straight single-win season obviously remains to be seen.

8
Alex Bowman, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

(Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Regular season points: 386 (-89)
Projected playoff rank: 7
Projected playoff points: 2009

2022 wins: 1
Top-5 finishes: 3
Laps led: 18

Since his win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March, Bowman has been fairly consistent in finishing among the top-10 drivers. All eight of his top-10 finishes have come since his win – though he finished 14th at Phoenix, 12th at Martinsville and crashed out at Darlington. He had an incredible breakout 2021 season with four wins, two of which occurred by this point last year. So he’s a little behind the pace if he wants to have another career season.

9
Kyle Larson, No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Regular season points: 376 (-99)
Projected playoff rank: 8
Projected playoff points: 2008

2022 wins: 1
Top-5 finishes: 6
Laps led: 196

NASCAR’s reigning champion grabbed his only win so far this season at Auto Club Speedway back in February and earned his sixth top-5 finish Sunday at Kansas, coming in second to Kurt Busch. But if you’re worried about his production this season compared with his 10-win championship run in 2021, don’t. At this point last year, Larson had the same number of wins as he has now. But he had a hot summer and won three in a row before continuing on a tear through the rest of the schedule.

10
Christopher Bell, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

(Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Regular season points: 359 (-116)
Projected playoff rank: 14
Projected playoff points: 2001

2022 wins: 0
Top-5 finishes: 3
Laps led: 158

Despite not having the best start of the season, Bell and his team have picked things up with three consecutive top-6 finishes, including finishing fifth at Kansas. But it’s hard to ignore the six races in which he either didn’t finish or finished outside the top-20 drivers. In just his third full-time season, Bell’s history at the Cola-Cola 600 doesn’t bode too well for him either, finishing 21st and 24th in the last two Charlotte oval races but ninth in the 2020 “crown jewel” race.

11
Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford

Regular season points: 335 (-140)
Projected playoff rank: 15
Projected playoff points: 2000

2022 wins: 0
Top-5 finishes: 2
Laps led: 13

12
Aric Almirola, No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford

Regular season points: 322 (-153)
Projected playoff rank: 16
Projected playoff points: 2000

2022 wins: 0
Top-5 finishes: 1
Laps led: 6

13
Austin Dillon, No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet

Regular season points: 311 (-164)
Projected playoff rank: 17
Projected playoff points: N/A

2022 wins: 0
Top-5 finishes: 3
Laps led: 2

14
Chase Briscoe, No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford

(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Regular season points: 300 (-175)
Projected playoff rank: 12
Projected playoff points: 2006

2022 wins: 1 (Phoenix)
Top-5 finishes: 2
Laps led: 187

15
Tyler Reddick, No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet

Regular season points: 300 (-175)
Projected playoff rank: 18
Projected playoff points: N/A

2022 wins: 0
Top-5 finishes: 4
Laps led: 230

16
Austin Cindric, No. 2 Team Penske Ford

(John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

Regular season points: 291 (-184)
Projected playoff rank: 13
Projected playoff points: 2005

2022 wins: 1 (Daytona 500)
Top-5 finishes: 1
Laps led: 32

17
Erik Jones, No. 43 Petty GMS Motorsports Chevrolet

Regular season points: 290 (-185)
Projected playoff rank: 19
Projected playoff points: N/A

2022 wins: 0
Top-5 finishes: 1
Laps led: 47

18
Kurt Busch, No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota

(Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Regular season points: 283 (-192)
Projected playoff rank: 11
Projected playoff points: 2006

2022 wins: 1 (Kansas)
Top-5 finishes: 3
Laps led: 125

19
Daniel Suárez, No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet

Regular season points: 273 (-202)
Projected playoff rank: 20
Projected playoff points: N/A

2022 wins: 0
Top-5 finishes: 2
Laps led: 120

20
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

(Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports)

Regular season points: 267 (-208)
Projected playoff rank: 10
Projected playoff points: 2007

2022 wins: 1 (Richmond Raceway)
Top-5 finishes: 2
Laps led: 158

21
Chris Buescher, No. 17 RFK Racing Ford

Regular season points: 261 (-214)
Projected playoff rank: 21
Projected playoff points: N/A

2022 wins: 0
Top-5 finishes: 0
Laps led: 18

22
Bubba Wallace, No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota

Regular season points: 257 (-218)
Projected playoff rank: 22
Projected playoff points: N/A

2022 wins: 0
Top-5 finishes: 1
Laps led: 30

23
Justin Haley, No. 31 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet

Regular season points: 245 (-230)
Projected playoff rank: 23
Projected playoff points: N/A

2022 wins: 0
Top-5 finishes: 1
Laps led: 20

24
Michael McDowell, No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford

Regular season points: 245 (-230)
Projected playoff rank: 24
Projected playoff points: N/A

2022 wins: 0
Top-5 finishes: 0
Laps led: 4

25
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet

Regular season points: 227 (-248)
Projected playoff rank: 25
Projected playoff points: N/A

2022 wins: 0
Top-5 finishes: 1
Laps led: 45

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