NASCAR Playoff System, In or Out?
My opinions on the flaws in the NASCAR playoff system, and how I would fix it.
The Nail in the coffin...
It is the final lap of the 2020 Xfinity 500 and Martinsville, Kevin Harvick, 2014 NACAR cup series champion, needs one more spot to make the final 4 and race for the championship. In front of him is Kyle Busch, 2015 and 2019 NASCAR cup series champion. In last ditch effort, Harvick exiting the last corner on the last lap tries to dump Busch. It was unsuccessful, hitting Kyle Busch and spinning him, but also himself. Kyle manages to save the car but the same can't be said for Harvick. The car backs into the inside wall, and is the Final nail in the coffin of Harvick's championship hopes.
The lead up...
Kevin Harvick had an almost perfect season dominating the rest of the field, only real competitor being Denny Hamlin. Mid season trading wins back and fourth. Harvick going into the playoffs with 7 wins, Hamlin with 6. If you told me at the start of the playoffs Harvick would not even have the chance to win a second title, I would think you were crazy. But here we are going into the final race of the season, and Harvick isn't even in the championship 4. So what happened?
Harvick won the fist race in the first round of the playoffs at Darlington, a track he won at when NASCAR first came back mid quarantine. Then he closed out the round with a dominating performance at Bristol, leading to his 9th win of the season.
Harvick's round of 12 wasn't as good, really coasting his way through and using some of his playoff points he got at the regular season. He was able to get 10th at Las Vegas. In Talladega he was involved in a crash with two to go, but was able to recover to a 20th place finish. Harvick closed out the round with a 11th at the semi rain plagued Roval race
In the round of 8 is were it all fell apart, a string of bad runs ruining an almost perfect season. getting a 2nd at Kansas after a fight with Joey in the end, which also lead to one spot being filled in the championship 4. Then a 16th at Texas after having to recover from a tire going down due to the mist on the track getting him out of the groove. He hit the wall causing a tire rub and needed to pit. He was able to recover to a 16th place finish. Lucky for him Kyle Busch won the race, who at this point was out of the playoffs being eliminated the round before.
Harvick came into Martinsville not with a comfortable gap from elimination, but just needed to have a nice clean race and a top ten. But Harvick was behind from the start, his car being an absolute handful to drive. While running around the top 20 he had some side contact with Matt Kenseth. This lead to another tire rub and he had to pit under green, which is disaster at Martinsville. It basically means you are going 2 laps down at least. Harvick now had a lot of work to do. Losing luckydog twice to Timmy Hill. He was eventually able to get back on the lead lap but then he had his next problem, Chase Elliot. Chase needed to win to get, and he was dominating with his only competition being Martin Truex. And with Brad Just in at 4th in points in the top 5, Harvick in the final laps was playing catchup, which ended with what was described above.
Why this playoff system has issues...
Kevin Harvick had an almost perfect season, 9 wins, 20 top 5s, and 26 top tens. In any non chase or playoff system this would have been an easy championship for him. He would have at least had a shot, Like Carl Edwards to lost on a tie breaker in 2011 to Tony Stewart after himself having a 9 win season. In 1990 Dale Earnhardt Won the championship with 9 wins himself. So this is my problem with the system. Yes it's boring to see someone dominate early on in a season and coast there way to the championship, which was what Jimmie Johnson commonly did to win some of his titles in the early 2000s.
So NASCAR tried to fix this with the playoff system, but I think went too far in one direction. Now is kills a drivers chance if they can have one bad race. How is a Matt DiBenedetto, or an Austin Dillon even have a chance if they can have one bad race and be out round one. This is the main problem with the current championship format, no other form of motorsport has a playoff system to decide a championship. F1 doesn't have it, IMSA doesn't have it, and neither does WEC. And this doesn't even scratch the surface in series that don't have this format.
How to fix the playoffs...
Here is my idea, I like to reward consistent drivers and I feel like there is one main solution to this and one band aid fix. First lets look at the main solution.
We can keep rounds but don't eliminate drivers after a round. I know this removes all the drama of it, but it's all manufactured to try to add drama to the boring racing product on track, which could be a whole other article in itself. But rather after the first round of the playoffs give drivers in the top 12 get a 20 point bonus, then continue this for each round. So it doesn't destroy the chances of Drivers who have one bad round, but they will for sure be on the back foot.
For the band aid fix it would be if a driver dominates pre season they still have a guarantee of making the final 4. Give the regular series champion a immediate ticket to the round of 4. Only semi confusing part is would that then leave 3 spots open for normal playoff drivers or will it lead to a championship 5? Will there then be 17 drivers in the playoffs? or will the regular series champion not really be counted in the playoffs until the final race? It definitely has some kinks to work out but like I said it's a band aid fix. Although I don't think it would effect it much, due to in 2019 regular series champion Kyle Busch also ended up winning the championship in the end.
Well I think Harvick said it best in his post race interview after Martinsville, "(Championships) Aren’t Won the Same Way Earnhardt and Petty Did."