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High stakes for everyone in NASCAR’s regular season finale

There is much to be decided next weekend in the NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway.

With William Byron claiming his fifth victory of the season on Sunday at Watkins Glen International, both Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick have clinched spots in the Round of 16 on championship points alone. That leaves just one spot up for grabs in a race where theoretically, anyone could win their way into the chase for the championship.

NASCAR championship point battle rages on

NASCAR: Go Bowling at The Glen
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But first, a glimpse into the championship point battle, which matters if there is no new winner from outside the provisional grid on Saturday night.

16. Bubba Wallace +32

17. Ty Gibbs -32
18. Daniel Suarez -43

It’s going to take Wallace having a really bad night for Gibbs or Suarez to have a shot at the final playoff spot on points. Wallace would have to score no stage points and finish in the back half of the field, combined with his pursuers earning a combination of stage points and quality finishes. Specifically, Wallace needs to score 24 points if there is no winner and he’s in.

Of course, a massive crash could strike Wallace at any time on Saturday, but the same holds true for Gibbs and Suarez too.

“I know we still have one more to go, but we wanted to maintain our gap and not lose too many and we gained,” Wallace said after the race. “Hats off to everybody on the effort we put in. Thanks to Toyota for believing in me, McDonalds and all of our partners involved. Just a great day for the 23 team. Now, we get to go in Daytona stressful as hell, but it takes a little bit of the edge off for sure.”

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of drivers capable of winning on Saturday in a superspeedway environment, and several of them historically have.

Chase Elliott
Alex Bowman
AJ Allmendinger
Austin Dillon
Aric Almirola
Ryan Preece
Chase Briscoe
Erik Jones
Justin Haley
Corey Lajoie

Should any of these drivers win, the point battle between Wallace, Gibbs and Suarez becomes a moot point, leaving the three of them facing something just short of must-win odds even if they all have a mathematical shot at pointing their way in.

Related: NASCAR Playoffs 2023: Latest NASCAR playoff picture, schedule and everything you need to know

The owner’s championship

NASCAR: Go Bowling at The Glen
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As detailed here, the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 car remains inside the NASCAR Cup Series owner playoffs even if driver Chase Elliott is facing a must-win scenario at Daytona.

The one significant deviation from the driver standings is that the No. 9 car is in where the 23XI Racing No. 23 car is out, even with Bubba Wallace currently in the driver’s playoff, a byproduct of Chase Elliott missing seven races due to his snowboard injury and suspension for crashing Denny Hamlin during the Coca-Cola 600.

So, even though Chase Elliott needs to win to keep his driver championship alive, it’s not entirely insignificant that his No. 9 could race for the owner’s championship — the standings that actually pay out the entirety of the championship purse at the end of the year.

16. Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 +30

17. 23XI Racing No. 23 -30

These are the only two cars eligible for the final owner’s playoff spot on championship points, although, just like the driver standings, a new winner from outside the provisional playoff grid boots both of these cars from the championship that pays the actual check at the end of the year.

Regular season championship

NASCAR: FireKeepers Casino 400
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Then, there is also the regular season championship battle, which also matters because of the bonus points that are paid out to the top-10 drivers after the regular season finale towards each round of the playoffs as long as that driver is active:

First: 15
Second: 10
Third: 8
Fourth: 7
Fifth: 6
Sixth: 5
Seventh: 4
Eighth: 3
Ninth: 2
Tenth: 1

Again, these are points that are added to the current playoff point total, and that number carries over from round-to-round, a safeguard that provides importance to regular season success once the playoffs reset the standings.

So, the difference from points leader Martin Truex Jr. to Denny Hamlin matters, but so does each spot surrounding the top-10 spots.

1. Martin Truex
2. Denny Hamlin -39
3. William Byron -76
4. Christopher Bell -109
5. Kyle Larson -140
6. Brad Keselowski -164
7. Chris Buescher -166
8. Ross Chastain -166
9. Ryan Blaney -167
10. Kevin Harvick -168
11. Kyle Busch -173
12. Tyler Reddick -178

Hamlin lost 25 points in March when he admitted to intentionally crashing Ross Chastain and that looms large now.

“It’s doable,” Hamlin said. “You’ve got to have things go your way. Yeah, if we can talk NASCAR into those 25 points they took away earlier in the season we’d really make it interesting but maybe he has a bad day and we have a good day.”

But also, look at how much movement can take place within the top-10 or even the battle to get inside the top-10 from sixth to 12th.

All told, there is so much on the line this coming Saturday night at Daytona, that could determine every championship and economic model of the NASCAR Cup Series.

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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