Are the NASCAR playoffs too long?
The NASCAR playoffs truly begin this weekend; the past six weeks have been more-or-less preliminary events.
The NASCAR playoffs in general have always been too long. 10 weeks just makes the playoffs drag way too long. If I didn’t have to watch them for this column, I’m probably not watching Kansas Speedway or the glorious march of Texas Motor Speedway. Really, the only playoffs comparable is the NBA, and that’s not a great comparison because those are also too long.
This is also after nearly 30 weeks since the start of the season, which makes it one of the longest regular seasons of any sport. While that hasn’t been as big an issue this season with the shutdown, the difference is that there was also just a ton of racing over this past summer.
Everybody on the circuit or those covering it are just tired by this point of the season. This leads to higher tempers and probably better racing on the track, but there’s also just a lot of burnout at all levels of the industry right now.
Mid-week racing was a fun experiment, but it just isn’t viable. The ratings are just not good, and it puts a lot of strain on teams. It leads to even more burnout than the grind of the current nearly 40-week schedule, even with theoretically more off-weekends.
At the same time, there hasn’t been a big problem when it comes to doubleheaders. It would be great if NASCAR could eventually shift events at tracks such as Kansas and Phoenix Raceway into doubleheader weekends, allowing the season to end a little sooner.
The first round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs really shouldn’t happen. If somebody wins a surprise race during the regular season, that means they’re probably out in the first round, like Cole Custer this season.
Going to 12 drivers in the Cup playoffs would make the spots way more valuable than they are. It would help to trim the fat and lead to more interesting bubble races than what we normally get, with better-quality teams and drivers fighting it out.
The resulting seven-race playoffs, presumably starting at the Southern 500 on Labor Day at Darlington Raceway, would get NASCAR out in mid-October. This seems early, but it means less weeks that NASCAR is going up against the baseball playoffs, college football and the NFL. This also cuts costs for teams, as they’re not on the road for almost an extra month.
Who will advance into the Cup Championship 4?
Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are the clear-cut championship favorites. Both drivers have combined to win half of the races this season, with Harvick in particular on pace for one of the greatest seasons in the past two decades. Both drivers also have just so many playoff points to begin the Round of 8.
Brad Keselowski enters this round third in points, and he may just end up there. Keselowski is on pace for his best season at the Cup level since his championship season in 2012, and with teammate Joey Logano having not won since pre-COVID-19 break, Keselowski represents the best hope for a Team Penske championship.
The round seems to have played right into Chase Elliott’s hands. While he only has one total win among the three tracks, he’s been fairly consistent at Texas and fast enough to contend for wins at Martinsville Speedway.
While these predictions are pretty safe, they’re also probably the best ones to make on the Cup side.
Who will advance into the Xfinity Series Championship 4?
There are just two Fords on the entire Xfinity grid, and they are one-two in points. Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric have really broken out this season, and both represent the best chance Ford has had at winning a driver’s championship in the series in five years.
Briscoe is a good choice to make it through due to his playoff point advantage and his success at intermediates this season. The tipping point for Cindric will be Martinsville. Due to its hairpin turns, road course aces such as Juan Pablo Montoya have always found some success at the paperclip, and Cindric should be no different.
Brandon Jones may seem like a weird pick to make it in, but 2020 has also been a weird year. Jones won at Kansas earlier this season and represents Toyota’s last hope at a championship in NXS.
Noah Gragson has had a roller coaster of a year, and it probably ends with him in the final four. Why? Of all eight playoff drivers, Gragson is the only one who’s going to be aggressive enough to wreck somebody at Martinsville to get in. The only question is if he can get in that situation to begin with.
Who will advance into the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Championship 4?
Every year, there’s always one head-scratcher in NASCAR that misses out on the final four, and my pick this year is Austin Hill. The No. 16 team just doesn’t seem to have a lot of luck. If it doesn’t win this weekend, it’s a tough road to Phoenix, especially with it running through Martinsville. Short tracks have just never been this team’s strong suit.
Moffitt hasn’t won yet this season, but he’s also been fairly consistent. He’s just one point off from Hill when it comes to overall points this season. Meanwhile, Crafton isn’t having a great season, but the most experienced driver in the playoff field is good at just hanging on.
The Trucks are the hardest series to predict this year due to just how much variety there’s been this season. It’s the only field of these three where there’s a solid case for any of these drivers to advance, so I went with two young guys with a lot of speed this season and two veterans who know how to get the job done.