Two former series champions (Martin Truex Jr and Brad Keselowski) were left out this year as five new faces are making their first foray into the postseason. There is one rookie in the mix and five former champions looking to add another title to their resume.

Hendrick Motorsports has all four of their drivers in, and Team Penske got all three of their cars in as well. Richard Childress Racing and Trackhouse Racing both got their two-car programs into the mix. Joe Gibbs Racing has three of their four drivers in while Stewart Haas Racing has two of their four drivers. There are eight Chevrolet drivers, five Ford drivers, and three Toyota representatives this year.

The 16 playoff drivers are chronicled below, in the order that they are seeded.

1) Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports

The regular season champion was the only driver to win more than two races this year. Three of Elliott's four wins came in the last ten races. He finished runner-up in two more of those, and earned top-five finishes in the last few weeks at Richmond and Watkins Glen. Chase has all of the numbers on his side. He enters the playoffs with the most wins, top-fives, top-tens, poles, average finishing position, and laps led.

Elliott is the betting favorite to win his second title, but he knows there is plenty of work ahead. "I’m super privileged to have a group of guys that have their priorities so straight that performance is what matters and putting things first that need to go first ahead of things that don’t matter in order to be successful. I feel like our team is just solid and we look forward to going to battle with each other every weekend, and regardless of the result, we’re ready to re-rack and try harder to do better the next week."

2) Joey Logano, Team Penske

After a dismal stretch in July, Logano has emerged as one of the hottest drivers since Indianapolis. The Team Penske driver finished 6th or better in four of the last five races, and recently earned himself a new multi-year contract from The Captain. Joey enters the playoffs this weekend in a great spot. He won the race at Darlington earlier this year from pole position. The 2018 champ loves where his team is at right now.

"I think we’re in great shape. I’m pretty sure we’ve scored more points than anybody in the last couple months. We scored a lot of points the last few weeks, so we’re doing a lot of really good things here recently. We just have to keep pushing and trying to figure out where a little bit more speed is, but we just have to keep executing with what we’ve got. We’ve got great execution, a great pit crew, great calls on the box. We’ve got to keep that going. Now we move forward and try to win a championship."

3) Ross Chastain, Trackhouse Racing

Trackhouse Racing burst onto the scene this year, winning three races in the regular season. Two of those came from Chastain, who had a career-year in the No. 1 Chevrolet. Those two victories came at a superspeedway (Talladega) and a road course (COTA). The final two races in the Round of 12 will take place at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval, which could bode well for the Watermelon Man.

Chastain has three runner-up finishes this season as well but has been cold in recent weeks. He will need to hit the reset button because his best finish in the last six races is 18th. He will also need to be wary of his competitors, who are still seeking payback for run-ins they have had with him this season.

4) Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports

The defending series champion has had a down year compared to last season but Larson has gained some serious momentum over the last few weeks. He finishes the regular season tied for the most top-ten finishes and most poles. Larson has been quiet for most of the season, but things changed when he took the bull by the horns at Watkins Glen. Despite sliding down to the fourth seed after his DNF at Daytona, the 30-year old believes he has a very good chance to go back-to-back this season.

"The first round has a lot of really good tracks for us. Darlington, Kansas and Bristol. Those are honestly three of my best racetracks. I really like that round and hopefully we can do well in it and get some wins and get some bonus points would be nice. I have always run really well at Darlington, but have not gotten a win there yet. I finished second three times in a row before we blew up this year, so would love to be one spot better there and finally get that Darlington win that we have been close to getting."

5) William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports

Byron has had somewhat of a strange season. Although he has led 612 laps and earned two race wins, the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet has just five top-ten finishes this year. In fact, since Byron's last victory back on April 9, he has just one top-ten result, which was a 9th place finish at Sonoma. The Hendrick bunch is the best in the business but Byron needs to find something in this first round.

"We haven’t shown it in a while but at the Indy Road Course, we had top-four speed. A lot of the tracks in the playoffs are really good tracks for us. We had a great run going at Darlington. We went from leading at Kansas to I think we finished 15th or 16th because the car had no more downforce. Bristol last year we finished third. I don’t really look past those, but I think as we get into the second and third round, those are great tracks too. We just had a good test at Martinsville. I feel optimistic for really all of them."

2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings 
Pos Driver  Team ManufacturerPoints
1Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet40
2Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord25
3Ross ChastainTrackHouse RacingChevrolet20
4Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet19
5William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet14
6Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota13
7Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord13
8Tyler ReddickRichard Childress RacingChevrolet12
9Kevin HarvickStewart Haas RacingFord12
10Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota11
11Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota10
12Chase BriscoeStewart Haas RacingFord9
13Daniel SuarezTrackHouse RacingChevrolet7
14Austin CindricTeam PenskeFord6
15Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet6
16Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet5

6) Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing

The same question is asked about Hamlin every year. Widely considered to be the best driver without a championship, Hamlin enters the playoffs this season with the sole focus on his No. 11 Toyota Camry. As the co-owner of 23XI Racing, he no longer has to be concerned with those two cars and can simply concentrate on his ride.

After being stripped of the race win at Pocono, Hamlin finished 3rd at Michigan and 4th at Richmond, where he won earlier in the season. As the top-seeded Toyota driver in the playoffs, this could finally be the year for Hamlin if he can eliminate the costly mistakes that have plagued this team all season.

7) Ryan Blaney, Team Penske

Despite not winning a race this season, Blaney has certainly been one of the best drivers every single week. He recorded eight top-five finishes and nearly won the Daytona 500 to start the year. He led a ton of laps (417) and earned three poles along the way. Although he just squeaked into the playoffs by three points, he should be considered a serious championship contender.

"Honestly, it’s been a good year for us, but the wins haven’t come. I feel like we can be a big threat in the playoffs, it’s just a matter of putting races together. It’s been a good year, but a great year would be wins and I feel like this team can do it if we just continue to do what we know and we improve on the things that we can get better at."

8) Tyler Reddick, Richard Childress Racing

Outside of the duo at Trackhouse, Reddick has been the biggest breakout this season. The 26-year old finally broke into the win column at Road America, then followed that up with a win from pole position at Indianapolis. As one of the best road course aces in the series, Tyler can also hang with the best of them on the ovals. He had runner-up finishes at Darlington and Pocono, and finished 3rd at Phoenix earlier in the year. His future may be at 23XI Racing but winning a title for RCR is still his top priority.

9) Kevin Harvick, Stewart Haas Racing

After knocking on the door all season, Harvick finally broke through with the win at Michigan. Harvick turned his lengthy winless streak into a winning streak at Richmond, and enters the playoffs well above the cut line. He finished 4th at Darlington earlier this year after starting in 35th position, and could very well find himself making another deep run. That could spell trouble for the rest of the competition, as his resume at Phoenix (championship weekend) is quite impressive.

"The best thing with our team is we’ve had some good luck. I think just having some things go your way is important because fast cars or slow cars, you have to have momentum and things on your side a little bit to be able to go through all ten weeks. The cars have been running well and we’ve been able to do the things that we need to do. If we can keep that up, you never know. It seems like such a wide-open championship picture because it’s just a wide variety of racetracks and momentum swings come with different teams at different times. I’m confident in our ability to win races and championships."

10) Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing

He shouldn't be labeled as an underdog, but Bell has been flying under the radar in recent weeks. After his win at New Hampshire, he finished 4th at Pocono. He had a runner-up finish at Richmond and another top-ten result at Watkins Glen. He is capable of winning on any type of race track, and he is one of the best qualifiers in the garage. Those things make him a serious threat every weekend.

Execution has been the biggest issue for Bell and his team this year. He has stated multiple times that he feels he has the most speed among all of the Toyota cars, but being able to capitalize at crucial moments of the race has been something they have had to work on all year long.

11) Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing

All of the talk surrounding Kyle this season has been about his driving future. On the track, it has been a mixture of bad luck and mistakes on pit road that have ultimately cost this team. He did have some good fortune on the dirt at Bristol, but Kyle’s last win on pavement came at Pocono last June. If he wants to win a third championship this year, he will have to find a way to get back to victory lane.

"You definitely need give and take to win a championship. I think the biggest thing with this car is people are seeing it takes hits a little bit more. The bodies are way more durable in that aspect. Everybody is taking full advantage of that and leaning on everybody a little bit more. Parity plays a piece in this too because these cars are more similar to the same speed. At the end of the day, you've got to be in it to win it."

12) Chase Briscoe, Stewart Haas Racing

If there is a driver entering the playoffs without any positive momentum, it is Briscoe. The Stewart Haas Racing driver had just four top-ten finishes in the regular season and his best finish in the last 12 races is 13th. Briscoe can be a legitimate threat to win at the Charlotte Roval, but he will need to find a way to advance out of the first round.

13) Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing

One of the most popular wins this season came at Sonoma, when Suarez finally broke through for his first career victory. The Mexican driver is one of the better road racers but he has shown well on different types of circuits. He may not be one of the betting favorites as the playoffs begin, but he could play the role of spoiler at some point.

Much like his teammate, Suarez has had a bit of a rough patch in the last month. In the last five races, he has only finished better than 19th one time. As the first driver below the cut line, that is not something he can afford in the opening round.

14) Austin Cindric, Team Penske

It was a dream start to the season for Cindric, winning the Daytona 500 in February. If the rookie is able to get into the Round of 12, he could become very dangerous. The Team Penske driver has finished 8th or better in every road course race this season, including a runner-up result at Indianapolis. He should be one of the favorites at the Charlotte Roval.

"It’s an amazing opportunity, but at the same time it’s what I expect out of myself and it’s certainly what the team expects, to have all of these cars in the playoffs. I’m pretty motivated to make the most of this opportunity. I don’t think anybody expects much out of us, but I expect a lot, so I’m looking forward to it."

15) Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports

Bowman ran well early in the season, getting the checkered flag at Las Vegas in early March. Things haven't gone well lately though, with finishes of 9th, 9th, and 10th being his only top-ten results in the last 15 races. Luck certainly hasn't been on his side, and he will need that to change if he wants to make it out of the first round.

"I am excited to be back in the playoffs again. It’s no secret that we have had our struggles this summer, but I know we have a lot of smart people at the shop working really hard to get us out of the summer slump we have been in. Two years ago, we struggled to make the playoffs and then had one of the best playoff runs I have ever had. We all know what we are capable of. It’s time to go out there and execute and try to win Hendrick Motorsports’ 15th championship."

16) Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing

It took a magical mixture of circumstances and an incredible amount of luck, but the stars aligned for Dillon yesterday at Daytona. After emerging from the accident that took out the 15 drivers ahead of him, the 32-year old was able to fend off a few damaged race cars to preserve the lead, with the aid of his teammate. He certainly doesn't pose as a threat for the title, but he did perform well at Darlington (9th) and Kansas (13th) earlier this year.

The playoffs begin next weekend at Darlington Raceway. The two other tracks in the Round of 16 are Kansas Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway. Coverage for Sunday's Cook Out Southern 500 begins at 6 PM ET on USA Network.