NASCAR is a bit different, though, so here's a bit of a breakdown.
NASCAR first implemented a playoff system in 2004, and it has since evolved over the years, with the most recent change coming this past January.
As it stands, after 26 races, 12 drivers advance to the Chase for the Sprint Cup. This has been the case since 2007, but the 12 drivers are now comprised of the top 10 drivers in terms of regular-season points and two wild-card qualifiers, which are the two drivers ranked 11th through 20th in regular-season points with the most race wins — tiebreakers are used when necessary.
These 12 drivers compete against each other in the standings each week for the final 10 races, while racing in the standard 43-car field.
The points system has been altered a bit in recent years, though. Now, the top 12 drivers who qualify for the Chase have their total number of points for the season reset to 2,000 at the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The top 10 that automatically qualified receive a bonus of three points for each of their regular-season wins. The two wild-card qualifiers, meanwhile, don't receive a bonus.
Then, during the final 10 races, which make up the Chase, normal scoring applies. Race winners earn 43 base points and three bonus points. All drivers who lead a lap earn one bonus point and the driver who leads the most laps earns one bonus points in addition to any other points he earns.
Eventually, after 10 hard-fought races, a champion is crowned — which is the driver with the most points.
This NASCAR playoff system has come a long way over the years and now ensures that we won't see another disaster like 2003, when Matt Kenseth took home the Winston Cup crown despite winning only one race all season — Ryan Newman won eight races that year and finished sixth.
Some wonder whether the two wild-card qualifiers in the current system should also receive a bonus for their regular-season wins — just as the top 10 drivers do. Otherwise, though, the result has been a wide-open field in 2011.