NASCAR Mailbox: Are The Playoffs Really the Best Way to Decide a Championship?

Martin Truex Jr.’s win at Chicagoland this weekend (Sept. 17) was comfortable, to say the least.

Now that the playoffs have begun, the logical question has arisen as to whether he can conceivably be beaten by anyone without Truex himself making a mistake. Furthermore, if he is beaten, what are the implications of that in such a complicated playoffs ruleset?

The wider implications of these questions reflect a feeling that NASCAR may be becoming too contrived for viewers to keep up, and parity between those at the front of the grid and those at the back may not be sufficient for everyone to compete.

NASCAR needs to keep evolving and changing to retain its dwindling viewership, and this year’s playoff formula does feel like a bit of an experiment.

If this season ends with some real fireworks, expect this format to remain but it doesn’t seem likely that NASCAR will stick with this one for too many seasons longer.

Have a question for NASCAR Mailbox? Tweet Joseph Wolkin at @JosephNASCAR or shoot him an email at Joseph.Wolkin@gmail.com! 

Q: Does anybody really stand a chance of beating Truex this season? – Frank Burke, Wichita, KS

It doesn’t seem so likely that Truex will take much of a beating up to the race at Homestead, Miami (Nov. 19). He holds 58 playoff points right now with five race wins and a staggering 18 stage wins. That’s six more stage wins than Kyle Busch, his closest competitor at the moment.

Truex somehow had a 7.1 sec lead over Chase Elliott at the checkered flag of the Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. And that was after a speeding penalty on pit road set him back in stage one and a loose wheel forced him to pit again in before the stage two restart.

The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing driver showed frightening pace throughout and it was clear that he was going to win around halfway into that 267 lap race.

However, Busch dominated the first stage, and nobody could catch him, as the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota enjoyed a lead of seven seconds at one point. Without Busch’s own pit road trouble, he might well have challenged Truex in stage three.

No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports’ racer Elliott also showed some pace. Ignoring the tenuous suggestions that his team was cheating at Chicagoland with tape on the rear wing of his Chevrolet sparked by somebody on Reddit, HMS always gets into gear when the playoffs come around.

Ruling Jimmie Johnson out of an eighth championship would not be sensible, is all.

So yes, while Truex holds such a huge playoff point lead over Kyle Larson (another name to throw into the hat as a challenger due to his stunning early-season form), come Homestead none of those points will matter and the championship decider will be delicately balanced.

One small mistake from Truex at Miami, which isn’t out of the question, could make this rich run of form redundant.

Q. Are playoff points a fair way to decide who wins the championship? The whole process seems ridiculous and hard to understand. – Matt B., London, UK

NASCAR loves changing how its postseason format works and this is this fifth major format change to have been implemented since the playoffs were implemented in 2004.

It’s hard enough to remember not to call this part of the season the Chase, and this year NASCAR decided to add another points table into the mix, with stage racing, to make every lap of every race count.

While there have been a few dead rubbers this season – particularly this race at Chicagoland and the race at Kentucky in July (also dominated by Truex) – most of the stages are hotly contested and strategy calls are made to maximize playoff points rather than just increasing the driver’s chance of a race win.

Playoff points will definitely decide who goes into the next round, as only wins provide a guaranteed way to progress. Therefore, most of the drivers who make it into the round of 12 will need to bank playoff points at New Hampshire and Dover before they’re cut off.

That seems fair, and it breeds good competition throughout the season, but the whole system does seem immensely complicated.

Having been brought up on Formula 1, where the winner gets 25 points; second place gets 18; third 15 and so on all the way down to 10th place where that driver gets one point, NASCAR’s reliance on lengthy points tables to score drivers three times per race does seem ridiculous.

It’s important to remember that points have been pretty straightforward in NASCAR over the regular season and when the playoffs started, those drivers who made their way into the playoffs have had their totals reset to 2000, with playoff points and bonus points added to that baseline total of 2000.

More important is the fact that a win matters above all, and points don’t matter when the title decider takes place at Homestead.

While NASCAR’s approach to changing things seems chaotic, this sport needs to do so because viewership has declined steadily for a while now, and seeing a sport change so willingly is refreshing.

Hopefully, viewers aren’t being scared away by these constant rule changes and contrivances, but TV ratings aren’t proving otherwise right now. Thankfully, I’m not the person tasked with making a 36-race season remain competitive and compelling throughout.

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kb

This playoff nonsense is just more garbage. When you keep changing things up, you dilute the meaning of what a CHAMP IS. Certainly the biggest dilution is a ONE RACE CHAMP…so pitiful it is beyond words or common sense. IMO. Especially literally handing it to a guy in the old points systems was P22 at the end of the season and missed 11 races! Talk about feel good story (Brian thought) and manipulation by Brian! That clown will go down in the books as a CUP CHAMP. How embarrassing!

Go back to a season long points based system, get rid of these gimmicks MOST fans cannot stand. Improve the racing on the track…and you might, just might…maybe see fans coming back. This gimmick garbage that gets spewed relentlessly by the media is tuning out a lot of people. I am one of them. But I am still a hopeful idiot.

JDinNC

Yep, the fact is, a driver could win the first 35 races of the season, finish 2nd at Homestead and not be the champion. While that is not likely to happen, it still could and that’s how it would stand based on the playoffs, especially the stupid one race final round. What is more likely to happen is a situation like kb mentions above and you end up with a champion that should have finished in the 20’s in points.

Texas Red

Matt Kenseth’s your one race champ. 2003 – no playoffs needed. The Latford System rewarded strokers, not drivers that run hard all year. Even Earnhardt stroked his way to championships late in seasons, so EVERYBODY did it. Once the NFL starts, stroke ’em if you got ’em!

kb

HMMM…didn’t NEWMAN win like 8 that year? Then something happened…And KENSETH should have never held that position, EVER. I am not married to LATFORD, but I am committed to seeing a 36 race dominate driver (or whatever the season is deemed) to be the winner. It is that simple. Everything else is BS and manipulation.

Steve

If memory serves me, Newman had alot of DNF’s and bad finishes that year. Kenseth was much more consistent, not getting the wins but running up front alot. Wasn’t a big fan of the Latford system either because it didn’t award enough for winning, but it is far better than this system.

Bill B

If you graph track attendance and ratings since Brian changed the format to the chase the answer will be clear.

Danny Shields

I have watched NASCAR since the mid 1960s. I have hated this from the opening of this whole chase/playoff whatever you want to call it mess. I have gone from a fan to a casual observer. I skipped going to the brickyard for the first time this year. I have not watched any of the past four races. I just don’t care anymore because it all is about picking a champion based on one race. It is just not entertainment anymore.

salb

Trying to keep track of points, which ones matter when…is just ridiculous. Maybe Nascar is hoping that if they make it complicated enough, they can just decide before the ‘playoff’ who they want as this year’s champ and skew things that way. Why else have such a convoluted way of awarding points? The Latford system was simple compared to this mess.

DoninAjax

Brian has to realize that when he continually has to “tweak” things, there is something inherently wrong with his concepts. If he got rid of all his brilliant ideas of how to “improve” his product The Brian would be better off. Too bad he’s past the point of no return. literally.

wildcatsfan2016

nope, neither the chase nor the renamed chase to be playoffs is the best way. Notice that attendance and viewership have both dropped since Brian’s bright idea was put in place. On top of that we have the yearly gimmick or dice roll to determine who this year’s champion will be.

between the gimmicks, the absolutely convoluted points system and the overwhelming focus on only the playoff drivers, NASCAR has lost its fun/excitement factor.

Steve Cosentino

In most playoffs once a “team” loses its out. Yet NASCAR has 40 drivers in every race. Look at what happened at Richmond for all you need to know how stupid this system is. A guy 15 laps down, 15!!, brings out a yellow and costs the dominant car the win. A great example of how this “system” does not work.

kb

It has happened before this race. Look it up. But BRIAN does not care. Many a driver has been screwed out of win. The ones we like and don’t like.

Jer

JDinNC”s comments are precisely correct. Jimmie Johnson a 7 time champion? Really??? **** As far as I am concerned the only champion left is 2003 Champ Matt Kenseth and he will gone next year. Which leaves NASCAR with only “asterisk intertainment” winners NOT a champion.

Biff Baynehouse

“Playoffs”, LMAO, as if?” Ha! Adorable!
YES! …Motorsports “playoffs” (as if there were such a thing) are “the best”… at completely de-legitimatize the integrity of a motorsports championship. And the fun part is, after “chase” (or “playoffs”, or whatever ever evolving label they slap on their mock-ish anomaly this season), “stages” completely destroy the little event & category sporting integrity that remains. “Chases” destroyed the championship, now “staged” “pee breaks” destroy each & every the event! If a sport does not have sporting integrity, the people competing might as well stay home & bake cup-cakes, bc the sport is gone… NADA!
To me, “chases & stages” means it’s not an integral sport anymore. It’s a formula drift or monster truck version of a motor-exhibition, & not a motor-sports. But I am sure it will sustain itself via peeps who like that sort’a …um, stuff, but it’s definitely not for me. I find all three major touring series BARELY TOLERABLE, & I only devote half a brain cell for the love of Ford!
Real motorsports devotees know what integral motorsports events & championships are …& they know there is not shortage of them in the World, & they know where to get them (IMSA, Indycar, Trans Am, Aussie V8 Supercar, F1, etc.). I have little of no time for your gimmickry.
The unspoken destroyer is “Advertising”, which is at a level that is deeply disenfranchising & a weekly mind-numbingly offensive vulgarity. Chicago Commercials:
Total laps: 267
Total ads: 215
– Total traditional: 64
– Total split-screen: 32
– Total graphics & scripted: 119
Imagine an NFL game with the 2nd & 3rd quarters of the game completely obliterated from the broadcast. In essence, that is what broadcasters do when they break from LIVE green flag racing, which, if you haven’t noticed, is exactly what occurs about every 10 – 15 laps (depending on the size of the track). Name ONE sport, other than racing, that cuts from live sports action for ad breaks? I’ll wait…
I realize, to a degree, it’s got to happen with motorsports, but it used to be minimized for motorsports. Now the event is ignored, & just serves as a dinner table for a smorgasbord of insipid advertising. Point being, it’s no ad revenue loss to charge advertisers 10 times as much, then run 1/10th the amount of ads during the motorsports event.

DoninAjax

Why are the Toyotas listed as ’18 models and the Chevs and Ford as ’17s?

kb

I am engrossed in the politics and favoritism of the blind downhill slide of this sport! Waiting for Brian to see the light. So I catch up sorta speak when the talking heads gush about the greatness of the race. LOL.

I cannot stand the racing anymore, the calling of the race. The favoritism, the hot dog wrappers, the manipulation etc. Why subject myself to my big TV, hating what I see? I wanna smash the expensive thang. No, I AM interested, for the perverse insanity of it all. It is fascinating from a business perspective watching the blunders BRIAN AND COMPANY MAKE, IMO. But I cannot watch the boredom, the hype of certain drivers, lies and Bs anymore. Maybe some day. Seems however I am not alone. Hmmm….

I support the teams I support, but I cannot watch anymore. Hopefully that will change. Have not watched in some time. The last time I suffered thru a whole race. I cannot say. But I know what goes on, I always do….

Steve

Not only is this sport unwatchable on a weekly basis on its own, it virtually impossible to keep me interested watching it on tv. Bombarded with ads and constantly focusing on the chosen ones, watching single car shots lap after lap, you probably wouldn’t know a race was going on if they didn’t have all the decals on the cars. Add in announcers that insult your intelligence by telling you how awesome things are when you can see with your own eyes that its not, makes me want to watch or do something else on a Sunday afternoon.

paltex

Was taught in my early sales life that is was a 100 times more difficult and expensive to get back a lost customer than it was to maintain an existing customer. If anyone has ever listen to France speak, it is not difficult to undrstand the racing rules he has implimented. And,all his puppet lieutenants agree like a bunch of bobble heads. Once sponsors and auto companies lower or stop supporting nascar with all the hundreds of millions of dollars will you see any positive changes. Meawhile, iam one of the lost customers and I don’t know what will get me back.

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