Skip to content

Which NASCAR Cup Series rookies have made the Playoffs?

Photo by Erick Messer/TRE

With three races before the start of the NASCAR Playoffs in the Cup Series, rookie Ty Gibbs currently holds the final playoff position in 16th position.

Gibbs holds a three-point advantage over 17th-place Michael McDowell.

If Gibbs can qualify for the NASCAR Playoffs, he would become the sixth driver since the inception of the NASCAR Playoffs in 2004 to qualify for NASCAR’s version of the postseason in their rookie year.

Photo by Dominic Aragon/TRE

Additionally, if the Joe Gibbs Racing driver can make the playoffs on points alone, he would be the first rookie since Chase Elliott in 2016 to make the playoffs without a victory.

Through the first 23 races, Gibbs has posted 1 Top-5 finish, 6 Top-10 finishes and led 10 laps.

Rookie Playoff Drivers

Denny Hamlin (2006)

Denny Hamlin climbs into the No. 11 Toyota
Denny Hamlin climbs into the No. 11 Toyota at Pocono Raceway in June 2018. (Tyler Head | The Racing Experts)

Hamlin was the first driver to qualify for the NASCAR Playoffs as a rookie.

Earning two wins that year, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver amassed 8 Top-5 finishes and 20 Top-10 finishes en route to a third-place showing in the final points. To date, his third-place points finish is the highest of a rookie in the playoff era of the Cup Series.

Chris Buescher (2016)

Photo by Cheri Eaton/The Racing Experts

It would be 10 more seasons before another rookie would qualify for the playoffs in the Cup Series, but Buescher’s upset victory at Pocono Raceway in July enabled the Front Row Motorsports driver to earn a playoff spot.

Across the season, Buescher earned 1 victory, 2 Top-5 finishes and 2 Top-10 finishes, anchoring the playoff field in 16th in points.

Chase Elliott (2016)

Photo by Franklin Romero/TRE

Elliott kicked off his rookie season earning the pole for the Daytona 500. The Hendrick Motorsports driver qualified for the playoffs on points, advancing into the Round of 12.

Finishing 10th in final points, Elliott earned 2 poles, 10 Top-5 finishes, 17 Top-10 finishes and led 358 laps.

Cole Custer (2020)

Photo by Erick Messer/TRE

By earning a win on a late-race restart at Kentucky Speedway in 2020, Custer propelled to the playoffs in his No. 41 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Custer was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, finish 16th in final points. He earned 1 win, 2 Top-5 finishes and 7 Top-10 finishes in his rookie campaign.

To date, the victory is Custer’s lone win in NASCAR’s premier series. Custer currently races part-time in the Cup Series for Rick Ware Racing.

Austin Cindric (2022)

Photo by Dominic Aragon/TRE

Austin Cindric is the last rookie to date to qualify for the playoffs in the Cup Series.

Cindric earned his first victory — and lone Cup win to date — in the 2022 Daytona 500, sealing he and his No. 2 team’s trip to the playoffs.

The Daytona 500 champion also earned 5 Top-5 finishes and 9 Top-10 finishes in his rookie season, advancing to the Round of 12. He ultimately finished 12th in points. 

Dominic Aragon View All

I am a co-owner and reporter for

Leave a Reply