(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Friday Faceoff: Should NASCAR Change the 2020 Playoff Format?

With several races now postponed, how should NASCAR go about squeezing them into the rest of the year?

Adam Cheek: Weekday races, doubleheaders and an extension of the season are the best routes. If they do intend to squeeze in all races for each series (36 for cup, seven of which will be missed with the current postponement plan), those would be the most reasonable options. If it takes rearranging the schedule slightly based on proximity of the tracks, that could be an avenue as well.

Joy Tomlinson: As of right now, they should try holding mid-week races and doubleheaders for the regular season races. But that’s if they don’t postpone any more events. This is still a fluid situation and it is unclear whether they will go back to racing at Martinsville Speedway. I say wait a few weeks and see what the local and federal government recommends for outdoor gatherings.

Vito Pugliese: At this point it will likely be a multi-tiered approach. Midweek and weekend combo races depending on location and proximity; running Bristol Motor Speedway, Martinsville and Richmond Raceway would make sense, truncating things down to a one-day show. Some races might very well need to be canceled. As much as we want to complete a 36-race schedule, forcing smaller teams who have been missing out on purse money or per-race sponsorship activation are going to be struggling as it is. Making them haul all over the country two or three times a week might be too tall of an order.

Amy Henderson: There are definitely options. Midweek races are certainly possible at Bristol, Richmond, and if necessary Martinsville and Charlotte. Texas could host a double-header fairly easily, as could Dover. Talladega poses a problem because too many cars get torn up for a double-up and it’s pretty far from Charlotte for a mid-week showdown, but there are a couple of off-weeks that could be used there. Charlotte would almost have to be a mid-week because the road course race makes doubling up impossible. The issue is that that’s a very short turn-around for some smaller teams, who don’t have a shop full of personnel working on cars while they’re at the track or a fleet of cars should one get wrecked.  As of now, a full season is doable. If the shutdown goes past May, it won’t be–and someone will end up a big loser, because not only do the tracks depend on the revenue, but so do the surrounding areas.

Some teams have already informed members they will be on leave without pay until racing resumes. Do you think any teams will permanently fold and which ones face the greatest risk?

Pugliese: It would pain me to see Jordan Anderson’s team to not being able to survive things, as well as Josh Williams and the Mario Gosselin-owned DGM Racing team he’s been running so well with the past few weeks, hitting way above his weight class in a non-Cup affiliated racecar. Seeing anybody struggle through this is a heartbreaking and harrowing endeavor. Let’s stay positive and hope we can get through this as quickly as possible without as much damage to teams and livelihoods as possible.

Cheek: I’m no expert on team funds or their situations with this postponement, but if I had to pick one full-time stable for each series, I’d say MBM Motorsports in the NASCAR Cup Series, Our Motorsports in the Xfinity Series and Reaume Brothers Racing in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. Other than the fact that these are some of the more underfunded teams in their respective series, I don’t have much basis for them being my choices. However, a lot of the teams are safe during this time – but again, the postponement will absolutely have an effect on the lower-budget teams.

Henderson: I think more teams are in trouble in all series than people realize.  Many depend on race purses to pay employees as well as to get to the next track. The big teams can afford to pay their employees while they stay home; smaller ones cannot, and that means many will lose valuable personnel in a best-case scenario. I think Xfinity and Trucks will take a bigger hit–they may struggle to fill fields (more than they sometimes already have), but there are Cup teams that could have to make tough decisions, too, even with charters in place.

Tomlinson: I don’t know if any will permanently fold (hopefully none), but Anderson’s team in the Truck Series may be one at risk. Also, perhaps a couple of new Xfinity Series teams – Martins Motorsports and Our Motorsports. I don’t know all the teams’ financials, but the underfunded teams are probably at the most risk.

Several NASCAR personalities participated in an iRacing event last week. Would you be in favor of continuing the season on iRacing?

Henderson: No. eRacing is fun, and the races have been surprisingly entertaining, but not every driver plays them often, and it would be unfair to teams to crown a national series champion in this format. I love that there are races available for fans to watch, and that they’re so easily accessible to fans. It’s fun to see which drivers are playing, but it wouldn’t be as much fun if they made everyone participate in a form of sport they don’t play and expect them to compete for a real-life title.

Tomlinson: I don’t mind NASCAR having iRacing events to pass the time while the season is on hold, but they shouldn’t continue the season there. A driver’s talent on iRacing may not be the same as in real life, though some drivers do benefit from the program. And let’s face it, virtual racing is just that – virtual. Even though they would be real drivers racing, they wouldn’t be in real cars.

Cheek: No, at least not continuing the 2020 season on iRacing. I love racing games, I’ve been playing a few myself to kill time during this period of staying inside as much as possible; I grew up on them. I can’t say I’m a fan of the whole eSports fad, but these iRaces do give us something to watch and it’s realistic enough to get drawn into it. It’s also fun to see the drivers get involved, like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Parker Kligerman and others did last weekend. So while I oppose the idea of making up the missed 2020 races on iRacing, having top-level drivers participate in these virtual events is cool, and at least it gives us something to watch.

Pugliese: I guess it’s something to pacify everyone for a few weeks and keep the sport and the names fresh in people’s minds, as well as tap into a captive gaming audience that might become regular views is an effective modern strategy. My only fear is if we start down the road of making this a regular thing to the point where we start seeing “top 10 iRacing moments,” and that will just be depressing.

Should the NASCAR postseason format/ qualification requirements be changed in any way due to the postponed races?

Henderson: Here’s a thought: if the regular season can’t be made up in its entirety before the scheduled start of the playoffs, scrap them, and crown the champion on points without any resets. Too short a regular season and 16 playoff berths isn’t a fair way to determine the champion. It would be an interesting experiment as well–if it was as well-received as I would expect it to be, NASCAR could use it as a reason to scrap the format permanently without having to admit outright they made a mistake with it in the first place: “The fans loved it so much, we decided to keep it” sounds better than “we’ve been doing this for 20 years and fans still don’t accept it” in terms of saving face, and everyone can walk away happy.

Pugliese: Yes – scrap it entirely! This would be a good test and could segue to do away with the playoffs. They simply don’t make any sense, and having drivers 16th in points being able to be considered a championship contender is borderline fraudulent. Since some schedule shuffling might be needed to pull any semblance of a season off, let’s just scrap the playoffs and go back to a cumulative points format.

Tomlinson: If any more events need to be postponed, NASCAR should reduce the Cup playoffs to 12, which would begin at Las Vegas. Maybe they could move some of the races around, like switch Martinsville in November with Las Vegas Motor Speedway in September. Or have Darlington Raceway switch with Las Vegas so it stays as the first race in the playoffs. Either way, it would be a shorter playoffs but would be just fine for the Cup Series.

Cheek: For now, the playoff format is safe, but if the postponement goes any longer it might be time to nix them for 2020. If they do want to get the entire schedule in for this year, they may have to reschedule some races and doubleheaders past the start of the playoffs, and that would really, really mess up the postseason. You can’t hold a race scheduled for the regular season after the start of the playoffs without major restructuring, so completing this season based on points alone would be the way to go if the season’s put on hold longer than it’s currently slated to be.

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9 comments

  1. Avatar

    NASCAR is dreaming if they think they will be racing again by Martinsville. This pandemic probably won’t peak until mid Summer and maybe not even then

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    Trying to run the cancelled races may end up being like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Possible with a hammer and that’s what they’d be doing. How would that work with the TV broadcasts? If the Atlanta race runs in Aug (during one of the off weekends) would FOX still cover it?

    If the regular season doesn’t consist of at least 24 races, then the playoffs would become even more of a joke that they already are. While I’d love to see them use season long points (as I’ve been wanting since the chase was announced) a viable option might be to get rid of the first round and cut the number of playoff drivers to 12 (as if the bottom 4 were eliminated after the 1st round). Those first 3 races would become part of the regular season races. Under no circumstances should the results of virtual iRacing have any influence on the NASCAR Cup championship. If you are going that route they might as well just cut a deck of cards until one driver comes out on top.

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    Regardless of season length, I’ve always considered the elimination portion of the season to be too long – once it starts, the teams not in the process generally receive ZERO coverage on any media platform, other than the posted results. Reducing “playoffs” to 7 races max, 2/2/2 and the final is plenty.

    While the NASCAR schedule is yet to be adjusted, the current hiatus sets the table for a future major shakeout to completely overhaul the way the 3 national series have been run for so long now. Consideration needs to be given to running timed events, rather than advertised distance. The 50% “rule” will take care of itself, in the event of rain or other calamity – regardless of any antiipcated distance or lap target, running 1/2 of the time “green” is a minimum complete race. If that’s not possible, the race is called complete when time expires.

    Current schedule is so packed that it leaves virtually no room to allow any re-scheduling without impacting the next race. The industry (NASCAR, teams, sponsors, media, personnel, families AND fans) pays a high cost when races end up postponed and/or re-scheduled.

    Trim out about 1/3 of the current dates, run multiple SHORTER timed events on some weekends to maintain the total number of races at tracks with 2 race dates on current schedule. Put some tracks on a rotation to have 2 race dates one year, and 1 race in other years, to give all current tracks at least one race per year, and possibly allow for addition of new tracks – Iowa, COTA/Road America, etc.

    Big proponent of unique opportunities like running 2 races on consecutive days at Indy – road course on Saturday, oval on Sunday, for example.

    I’m in favor of junking points and just going to an average finish format. Races won and laps led need to become even more important. Penalties get revised to be imposed immediately for on track situations, and technical/equipment penalties are renedered to impact starting order for future events.

  4. Avatar

    SCRAP THE “PLAYOFF”? What a brilliant idea! It was a stupid idea in the first place.

  5. Avatar

    I think any talk of when racing will resume is just wishful thinking. Until new infections peak and start to fall there is no point of any talk of when racing will resume. We just need to hope and pray we don’t follow the path of Italy. That country is nearing total collapse. Just my thoughts Lew

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    I agree with Henderson. A good time to bow out of the stage racing, but the TV folks won’t give up the ad $.
    It’s time the cable and satellite providers give credit back to the consumers who aren’t enjoying any of the sports. Time to put some money back in America’s pockets to help them through these trying times. Maybe we need to get the politicians involved.

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    I couldn’t care less if they just skipped crowning a champion altogether for the year. One of the reasons I fell in love with racing as a kid was every race just seemed so huge for the winner. Like every race was a Super Bowl for the guys competing – and thus the fans. Just let them race no holds barred – whenever they can get going again. Although i do believe Summer weather and the huge differences in our nation vs. all the rest will make our trajectory quite different..(hoping so at least).

  8. Avatar

    Great Face Off! Keeps us fans engaged. Drinking buddies had same discussion the other night.

    In our rotisserie league we are going to payout if !/2 of all + 1 races are run.

    For a 36 race season that would be 19 races. We adapted that rule (while drinking) rationalizing that for a race to be official it has to go 1/2 the advertised distance.

    Read on if your not bored yet(you will be).
    The CCC Rotisserie League drafts 8 teams of 2 drivers (this number has varied over the 20+ years) for two 18 race seasons during the NASCAR schedule.

    The first 18 race season was to end on the Saturday Pocono race. We would pay overall winning team (by adding driver points).and an optional side bet of top driver by points.

    We are going to consider the 1st season official after the 10th race but season will continue for 18.
    18 \ 2 = 9 thus 9+1=10 the official distance for our season.

    I have drivers Harvick and Jones as my team and separately in the side bet. We can make one replacement in a season with no injury clause.

    (now I’m hijacking the thread?) Would you replace Jones with one of these available drivers?
    Jones has 77 points.
    Driver Points
    Jimmie Johnson 131
    Aric Almirola 121
    Chris Buescher 102
    Ricky Stenhouse 88
    Bubba Wallace 87
    Austin Dillon 77
    Cole Custer 73