NASCAR: What's at stake for the 2021 playoffs ahead of the final two races of the regular season

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AJ Allmendinger’s win at the Indianapolis road course had some serious playoff implications.

As a full-time driver in the Xfinity Series running a part-time schedule in Cup, Allmendinger isn’t eligible for Cup points. He won’t be a part of the 2021 Cup Series playoffs. But his victory was great news for drivers like Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon as they try to qualify for the playoffs.

Allmendinger became the 14th driver to win a race in 2021. But just 13 are eligible for the playoffs. That leaves four spots for drivers who haven’t gotten a win so far in 2021 with two races to go before the playoffs.

One of those spots is already decided. Denny Hamlin has it. Another one is virtually decided.

Assuming there are no new winners over the final two races of the regular season, three drivers will make the playoff field via their position in the points standings. And the race for the final two provisional spots on points really isn’t all that close.

Austin Dillon is currently outside the final spot in the playoffs with 638 points. That’s 117 points ahead of Matt DiBenedetto. It’s impossible for DiBenedetto to make the playoffs without winning. Dillon, meanwhile, is 28 points behind his teammate Tyler Reddick for the final spot on points. 

Here’s what you need to know about the playoff field ahead of Sunday’s race at Michigan. We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s not all that dramatic unless you're looking forward to a battle between Richard Childress Racing cars for the final potential spot.

Locked in with wins

Kyle Larson (5 wins)

Martin Truex Jr. (3)

Alex Bowman (3)

Kyle Busch (2)

Chase Elliott (2)

William Byron (1)

Joey Logano (1)

Ryan Blaney (1)

Brad Keselowski (1)

Kurt Busch (1)

Christopher Bell (1)

Michael McDowell (1)

Aric Almirola (1)

Larson now has the points lead after Hamlin got spun from the lead in the waning laps of the Indianapolis road course race. The regular-season points leader gets 15 playoff points while second place gets 10. Larson currently has 17 more playoff points than any other driver and that number will increase ahead of the playoffs.

Almirola is the lowest driver in the standings (23rd) who is locked into the playoffs. Every other driver is in the top 20 and, with the exception of Michael McDowell, every other driver is in the top 15.

Locked in on points

Denny Hamlin (931 points)

Allmendinger’s win meant Hamlin clinched a spot in the playoffs despite not winning so far this season. Hamlin has just five playoff points so far; getting ahead of Larson in the standings to win the regular season points title is key.

Will be locked in on points

Kevin Harvick (733)

Harvick is currently 67 points ahead of Tyler Reddick in the standings. As long as he maintains that gap over either Reddick or Dillon, he’s going to be officially in the playoffs after Michigan no matter who wins the race.

And yes, neither Hamlin nor Harvick have won a race so far this season. You have to go back a long way to find a season’s two dominant drivers both struggle to reach Victory Lane in the next season.

One or the other?

Tyler Reddick (666)

Austin Dillon (638)

This is pretty straightforward. Wins at Michigan and Daytona by drivers who have won already lock Reddick or Dillon into the playoffs. Of course, they can make it easy for themselves by winning.

Needs to win

Matt DiBenedetto (521)

Chris Buescher (520)

Ross Chastain (490)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (479)

Bubba Wallace (464)

Chase Briscoe (424)

Daniel Suarez (408)

Erik Jones (408)

Jones and Suarez are tied for 25th in the points standings. Every other driver 26th or worse in the standings also fits into this column.

Daytona can be a wild card next week, especially if the race is anything like what we saw in the Daytona 500. But even then it’s hard to count on a winless driver getting his first win of the season on Aug. 28.

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