It has not been that many years ago in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series that making it into the playoff round and eventually winning the title was all about collecting as many points as possible during each and every race on the schedule.
That sometimes created years where a couple of drivers were so dominated that the title hunt would actually become a two or three driver competition as the schedule moved from late summer into fall. Fans lost interest in the sport as their drivers became nothing more than field fillers even though they might win a race but still would not have a chance to win the title leaving NASCAR with a product that needed to keep the interest up as the schedule began going head to head with the all mighty NFL.
All of that changed when NASCAR moved to a point system that actually rewarded drivers for winning a race and for winning one of the opening two stages of each race. Winning a race all but guaranteed a driver a spot in the sixteen driver playoff field with the opportunity to run for the title over the last ten races of the season.
Since the introduction there has not been a season when there were actually sixteen different winners so there is still a premium placed on how many points a driver can collect during a race.
Winning a race or finishing in the top-5 is still the best way to accumulate points as the winner of a race is awarded 40 points with the second place finisher earning 35. After second place, each driver is awarded one less point below the driver who finishes just above him all the way down to the 40th place driver who receives one point for his effort. All of these points accrue over the first 26 races of the season and are used to fill out the playoff round of drivers.
Those are the points awarded after the finish of the race but during the race there are also points up for grabs as driver points are awarded at the end of each of the first two stages. The top-finisher in each stages earns ten points with the each spot below earning one less point down to the tenth place finisher who earns one point. The only exception to this rule is in the Coca-Cola 600 which because of its length actually has four stages with the added third stage awarding the same points as the first two stages.
In addition to all of the points available at the conclusion of a race as well as during the race there are also bonus playoff points awarded during and at the conclusion of a race. These points prove so valuable once the playoff round begins as they are added to a driver's point total throughout the three-three race rounds of the playoffs leading up to the final race of the year where the title goes to the highest finisher of the Championship 4 drivers. The winners of the first two stages are awarded one bonus playoff point each and the winner of the race accumulates 5 bonus points.
Joey Logano has already won a race this season and is safely in the playoff round but he also leads all drivers with 148 stage points. He also has five stage wins which gives him five points to take with him as he attempts to advance through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Following Logano in the number of stage points is Kevin Harvick with 135. Those points are more important to him at this time than Logano's because the Stewart-Haas driver has yet to win a race this season. He also has three stage wins worth three bonus points that he will have to carry thorough the playoffs and in seasons past three points can mean the difference of advancing into the next round.
Racing will always be about winning but you don't need a calculator to see that collecting points at every stop on the schedule can also be a way into the playoffs with a shot at the title. It's is not the most glamorous path to a title but it does give every driver hope of being one of the sixteen with a chance of becoming the champion.