NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fire on Friday: Lack of Continuity in Playoffs

Am I the only one who finds it rather strange that NASCAR’s top three series don’t start their playoffs on the same weekend?

Scratch that — it’s not just strange, it’s a missed opportunity.

Why does the Camping World Truck Series, which has the best racing in all of NASCAR, start its postseason three weeks before the XFINITY and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series do? And at a different style track in a different country.

Neither of those latter points are a huge deal to me. What is, though, is a playoff system that has been hyped-up, manicured, face-lifted, advertised, tweaked, poked and prodded at for years. One thing is missing: continuity.

There isn’t a reason why the Truck, XFINITY and Cup drivers can’t start their playoffs on the same weekend. Don’t give me the, “oh, but not all three series are 10 races long,” excuse. Or the, “oh, but the timing wouldn’t work,” or the, “oh, but the schedule can’t change until the agreements with the tracks are up in a couple years.”

I couldn’t give a rat’s backside about all that. For something as important as the playoffs to a sanctioning body and sport that have been in rapid decline the past decade, the start of the playoffs would be a perfect time to showcase all three series for their uniqueness.

The casual NASCAR fan probably doesn’t know about Noah Gragson. Or Justin Allgaier. And if they don’t know them, they damn well don’t know Stewart Friesen or Johnny Sauter, who have made headlines in the Truck Series this season. They won’t know Elliott Sadler, Daniel Hemric or Ross Chastain, who have done the same in the XFINITY Series.

Like it or not, NASCAR is attempting to appeal to that fan, the casual one. The millennial audience.

I live in a suburb of Washington, D.C. I’m aware that nobody in this area knows or cares about NASCAR. The extent of their knowledge of racing starts and ends with Talladega Nights and Ricky Bobby.

They might know the name Dale Earnhardt Jr. My friends know a few more since I bored them with NASCAR all throughout our childhood conversations. But nothing more. They don’t know the intricacies of the sport and how it works on a weekly basis.

Don’t get it twisted, though. I’m not saying in order to appeal to the casual fan, the intricacies should be taught. Quite the opposite.

People don’t understand the playoff system and how it works. In order to explain it enough to make sense, it takes more than a minute, which, in this generation of short attention spans, ain’t gonna cut it.

I was recently having a conversation with a friend, attempting to explain how the NASCAR regular and postseason work. When I told him that two series started at Las Vegas Motor Speedway but another one started three weeks before at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, he asked me a simple question: why?

It’s a damn good question. It makes sense for the three national series to start their playoffs at the same track, on the same weekend, in the same market, with all eyes focused on one place.

And this isn’t even to mention the track, Las Vegas, which is a solid venue in one of the best markets in the United States. Racing fans from the West Coast flock to the desert for one of their few chances to see their favorite drivers all season long.

But the start of the playoffs shouldn’t be boring. Call me negative, but Vegas isn’t going to be a doozy of an opener. No intermediate track barring Homestead-Miami Speedway (unofficially reserved for the season finale) will be, unless it has a last lap such as Chicagoland Speedway did in July.

Canadian Tire was pretty solid, wouldn’t you say? Lots of action. Same with Road America. Could you imagine a Bristol Motor Speedway or Martinsville Speedway playoff opener? What about Richmond Raceway, Watkins Glen International or Sonoma Raceway?

I understand no major changes will take place for a couple years, but that doesn’t mean we can’t swap around the schedule for the 10 most important races of the season to make sure the sport gets more attention in a positive way without compromising the integrity of it.

In an era that’s millennial-driven, social media-hungry and demands entertainment, 400 miles of single-file racing dominated by three drivers who have done the same thing at every other 1.5-miler this season isn’t what NASCAR needs to kick off its final 10-race stretch.

It’s fine to have three different identities for the three different series. It should be that way because of the difference in drivers, vehicles, tracks and rules. Individuality is one thing, continuity is another.

There’s nothing bad that can come out of the top three series participating in their playoff openers on the same weekend at the same track. Nobody starts before, nobody starts after. They all end in the same weekend and place in South Beach, so why not start together, too?

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salb

Yet another reason why a ‘playoff’ in a racing series is ludicrous.

.JB

A good an accurate rant. I think its time to start sending suggestions directly to Nascar. I have started to do that. They need to not just read the headline, but to get flooded with ideas so that maybe someone, somewhere will take the initiative to create change. Jim France is the opportunity to provide input that could actually be read.

DoninAjax

In what playoff system is there an advantage for a team or player at the beginning? Does a pitcher start with a strike advantage? Does a batter start with a ball? Does a team start up a touchdown? Does a team start up a win? Is a lower seed player down a set? It’s supposed to be a “new season”, except in Brian’s world. Makes cents to him.

Charlie

In all systems. The team which performed better during the regular season gets home field advantage, or even a bye.

Another Viewpoint

Charlie, correct! All sports have seeding systems to give higher-ranked teams or players an advantage at the start of a playoff or tournament. Look at NCAA basketball – one of the most successful playoff systems in history. The Number 1 seed in each region starts out playing the #16 seed, the #2 plays the #15, etc. This is true of both team sports and individual sports, like the U.S. Tennis Open going on now. This is designed both to reward the regular season accomplishments of the participants and to set up the best possible match-up in the finals.

And is the fact that the Truck playoffs start earlier than the rest really worth a column on FS? Of course not. It’s just another opportunity for the writers and disgruntled fans to whine about something.

Don in Connecticut

The term “playoffs” makes me want to laugh my ass off.
NASCAR is toast.

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