Gateway Cup race shakes up NASCAR playoff picture

Only 11 races remain in the Cup Series regular season, yet the playoff picture is murkier than before due to the race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Austin Cindric won Sunday's Cup race as he took the lead from teammate Ryan Blaney on the final lap. Cindric, who was 20th in the Cup standings, punched his ticket to the playoffs and shifted the cutline up one spot.

MORE: Cup driver points

Meanwhile, Kyle Busch fell below the cutline after finishing 35th due to a crash in stage 2. Busch is currently 10 points behind Chase Briscoe, who sits in the final playoff spot. Joey Logano is just ahead of Busch and four points behind Briscoe.

Of course, Cindric winning from well below the cutline is only one reason why the playoff picture remains murky. The other reason is that the updated points report shows Kyle Larson as having zero playoff points.

Larson missed last weekend's rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 while competing in the Indy 500. Per NASCAR rules, he is ineligible to compete for a championship unless he receives a waiver. The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is still eligible for the owners' championship.

NASCAR has not decided whether to award Larson this waiver and give back the 17 playoff points he earned by winning two races and seven stages.

If Larson receives this waiver, the cutline will shift once again. Briscoe will fall out of a playoff spot while Chris Buescher will move to the cutline. Buescher is currently 10 points ahead of Briscoe.

If Larson receives the waiver, he will be one of nine drivers with a spot in the playoffs due to a win. The other eight are Cindric, Daniel Suarez, Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell, Brad Keselowski, and Tyler Reddick. This would leave seven spots heading toward the end of the regular season.

While the cutline grew murkier, the top of the Cup standings took an intriguing turn. Denny Hamlin retained the top spot after a fifth-place finish but teammate Martin Truex Jr. fell to fourth after he finished 34th due to a tire issue.

Chase Elliott moved to third in the Cup standings after finishing 13th and scoring eight stage points. Elliott is 27 points behind Hamlin with an opportunity to contend for his second regular-season championship of the Next Gen era.

The playoff picture could become more confusing this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. The reason is that the road course presents many unknowns after undergoing an offseason repave.

Additionally, five of the top seven full-time drivers in last season's Sonoma race -- Truex, Busch, Logano, Buescher, and Michael McDowell -- are winless this season.