Since the beginning of the playoffs back in 2004, we have seen a handful of drivers outside of the top 10, 12 and then 16 win a race or two in the final 10. However, since there have been 16 drivers in the playoffs, it seems to be rarer that a driver outside of that wins.
Do you see a non-playoff driver winning the rest of the season? Who can spoil the party? Can anyone win more than once or will it truly be a winless final 10 races for the non-playoff guys?
Prior to 2014, the playoff system seemed to reward consistency along with winning more than it does these days. A winless driver has not won the title since we have had playoffs in NASCAR, and many believe we will never see one win a title again unless they win a race.
Is it possible for a driver to not win a race and win the championship with this playoff system? Is winning too emphasized or is there such a thing? Can it possibly happen this season?
Q: Do you think a non-Playoff driver will win a race in the final 10 races this season? If so, who? Ted R., Albany, NY
A: As much as I feel like there are drivers who didn’t make the playoffs that can win a race, I do not believe we see somebody outside of the top 16 win a race. There are drivers such as Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson who are capable of stealing one, but we see every single year how much the playoff drivers step up their game once the postseason actually starts.
It used to be more common that drivers who did not make the playoffs would win a race in the final 10. Drivers like Dale Jarrett back in 2005, Tony Stewart in 2006 and Kasey Kahne in 2011 all won races in the years that they did not make the top 10-12 in points. While I’m not saying the field these days is not more competitive, fewer drivers used to make the playoffs and therefore, there used to be a ton of good teams still on the outside looking in.
These days, with 16 drivers making it every year, we truly do see the best teams in the sport making it, if not a few who are only “average”.
This season, we will see the top guys step it up and we may see someone sweep a round as we have in the past that can lead to a championship. There is a very large group of drivers who legitimately can win the championship, not just a Big Three or very few. This year feels like it is truly wide open. You could take 10 drivers and make a legitimate argument for a championship run.
As for those outside of the playoffs, I see Matt DiBenedetto running very well in the final 10 races, especially at the 750 horsepower tracks. He may be a guy who can steal one, along with the drivers I mentioned like Suarez and Johnson.
When all is said and done, though, the playoff drivers will sweep the final 10, including whoever wins the title down in Homestead-Miami. There are too many really good drivers and teams inside the top 16 that are more than determined to show their best stuff and I do not see any non-playoff driver topping them this year.
Q: Do you feel that a winless driver will ever have a chance to win a championship again, especially in this format? Dwight T., Columbus, OH
A: No. It is as simple as that. This championship format rewards winning more than ever, and there will never be a winless driver who can win a championship again unless they are somehow in the top five every single race.
Playoff points are way too important these days for somebody who has not won a single race to win it all. Back in 2014, Ryan Newman comes to mind. Winless all season long, he was the model of consistency that year and made it all the way to the Championship 4. Not only did he do that, but he also came up a few car lengths short of winning his first race of the season and the title against Kevin Harvick.
The difference between then and now, though, are stage points and playoff points, which had not been introduced at that time. It was quite possible a winless driver could have won with that format five years ago. However, if you have no playoff points these days, the task is nearly impossible.
Every champion since the beginning of this format has had at least three wins on the season, dating back to Harvick in 2014. Joey Logano has had the fewest victories in that time with three last season. Why has the champion been the champion? Because winning is rewarded in this format more than ever before.
Fans who have been watching since before the playoffs began prior to 2004 remember when consistency was huge because in a 36-race championship schedule. No playoffs — whoever had the most points at the end of the season won the title.
Now, the title comes down to three rounds with three races at a time followed by a championship race if you make it that far. The sport has changed a ton in the last 15 years for that reason.
Unless the format ever changes, which I do not foresee happening, a winless driver will never win the championship. There aren’t many winless drivers in the playoffs this year anyway.
William Byron, Clint Bowyer, Newman, Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola and Ryan Blaney are the only drivers of the 16-driver playoff field to not win a race this season. Can one of them win it all without winning a race?
While seeing a winless driver make it to Homestead would certainly make for a good underdog story, the likelihood is very slim. Regardless, their attempt at making a run at it will certainly be interesting to watch.