Much has been made of the sliding popularity of NASCAR in recent years, but it still remains among the top five most popular sports in the United States–more than basketball, hockey and soccer, and behind only baseball and football. Part of the problem is that many Americans simply don’t understand the sport and think it’s mostly just a bunch of yokels driving around in circles.

In actuality, the sport takes as much endurance and skill as any other and sometimes more. We’ve already told you about how the regular season works, but with the playoffs under way it’s time to bone up on how champions are made.

How Do the NASCAR Playoffs Work?

Generally speaking, the drivers with the most wins over the season will qualify for the playoffs, with 16 drivers going in total. If there aren’t enough drivers to fill the 16 slots, point totals are then used to determine the remaining racers until it is full. The playoffs are handled the same way as the regular season when it comes to scoring, with each race divided into stages and points awarded based on finishing position within each. Drivers are not only racing against those who have qualified for the championship, but also against a full field of 43 drivers who may be teammates of those in contention. This can lead to some fierce competition between qualifiers and non-qualifiers who might not have any reason to otherwise participate if it weren’t for their teammates.

Who Are the NASCAR Drivers to Watch?

Currently, Martin Truex Jr. is the top dog, with seven race wins, 19 stage wins, and a slew of top 10 and five finishes and a total of 4,069 points during the season. While he hasn’t won a championship since winning back-to-back in the Xfinity Series in 2004 and 2005, he has been dominant in several races this season, becoming the first and fastest person ever to 10 stage wins. He is already off to a hot start in the playoffs as well, already rocking three race wins.

In second place in the playoff standings is Kyle Busch, whose four race wins, 14 stage wins, and total of 4,042 points put him within striking distance. He has two race wins in the playoffs, and is the second-winningest driver of all time. He has been giving Truex fits all season, with the two battling for supremacy.

The only other driver with a race win so far during the playoffs is Brad Keselowski, whose three wins, six stage wins, and 4,026 total points show he has what it takes to get the job done. He is one of only four players to have won a championship in both the cup series and the Xfinity Series, and his aggressive driving style could be enough to put him over the top this year.

Attending Your First NASCAR Game

Attending a Nascar race is unlike any other sporting event due to the sheer number of people and the length of time involved. Attendance numbers may swell up to 150,000 people or more–double what you might expect at an NFL game. People will go and hang out all day and it has a general tailgating and even a fair atmosphere, with food and beer flowing freely, people playing games and hanging out in and around the stands, and vendors hocking their wares.

How Do I Get NASCAR Playoff Tickets?

The best part is that tickets are much cheaper than they are for many other sporting events. Sometimes races will go for less than $50 a ticket. You can click here to browse NASCAR tickets on SeatGeek, or check out playoff tickets below.

(Image courtesy of Chad Sparkes via Flickr.)