NASCAR’s version of the playoffs, the Chase, begins today at Chicagoland Speedway.
As the sport’s postseason begins, 16 drivers are officially in contention to hoist the Sprint Cup championship trophy on Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. They’re separated by a mere 12 points, seeded by victories.
With that in mind, here are five things to know about NASCAR’s Chase:
1. It actually has rounds this year: After the first three races of the 10-race playoffs, four drivers will be eliminated from contention for the title through a further resetting of points. They’ll still be competing against those removed from contention at the same time for spots 13-16 in the points.
Race winners automatically advance in each stage, with the other advancing drivers determined by points.
Then after the sixth and ninth races of the Chase, four more drivers will be removed from contention each time (winners automatically advancing remains part of the equation).
By the time it’s the season finale, the final four drivers will have their points wiped out and race for the championship with the highest finisher that day being crowned champion.
2. Biggest winner isn’t always champion: The driver with the most victories during the 36-race season has won the Chase just four times in the first 10 years of the Chase.
Jimmie Johnson (10 wins, 2007; 7 wins, 2009), Tony Stewart (5 wins, 2011) and Brad Keselowski (5 wins, tied for most, 2012) are the champions who also laid claim to the most victories.
Drivers have won nine times (Carl Edwards, 2008), eight times (Jimmie Johnson, 2004; Denny Hamlin, 2010) and seven times (Matt Kenseth, 2013) without bringing home a title.
3. Winning early in Chase doesn’t guarantee title: Of the 10 drivers to win the first race in the Chase, only Kurt Busch (2004), Stewart (2011) and Keselowski (2012) have finished as the Sprint Cup champion.
In fact, Stewart won the first two races of the 2011 Chase. But Greg Biffle (2008) and Kenseth (2013) also started the Chase with consecutive victories before finishing third and second, respectively, in those seasons.
4. Most wins in Chase means something recently: Six of the past seven Sprint Cup champions have either won the most races or tied for the most victories in the 10-race Chase, highlighted by Stewart’s five in 2011.
The lone exception in that stretch was Johnson in 2010, as he won once in the postseason and runner-up Hamlin, Edwards and Clint Bowyer each had two wins in the Chase.
5. But Chase wins aren’t everything: In addition to Johnson in 2010, Kurt Busch in 2004 and Johnson in 2006 each won a championship with one Chase victory. Stewart earned a title with no Chase wins in 2005.
Perhaps most interesting of all, Edwards had no Chase victories and still tied with Stewart, who had five postseason triumphs, for the most points in 2011. Of course, he lost the tiebreaker: most wins for the season. Stewart totaled five and Edwards had one.