With nine wins already, is Kyle Larson‘s season a successful one regardless of if he wins the championship? – Mark K., Newton, Iowa
Hell yeah, it is. He’s won nine damn times, for goodness’ sake.
Championships used to be the barometer of how success was measured in NASCAR. But it’s not anymore and hasn’t been since the current playoff format was instituted in 2014. Wins aren’t necessarily more important than a championship, but they may be a better measuring stick decades from now than titles.
I remember Brad Keselowski saying something similar at Championship 4 media day a few years ago and that drivers may be judged on how many race victories or Championship 4 appearances they make, rather than how many rings they earn.
Larson’s 2021 season is up there with some of the best campaigns of all time. In that same breath is Kevin Harvick‘s 2020, which saw him fall short of advancing to the Championship 4.
But even “Happy,” who was surely unhappy with the outcome one year ago at Martinsville Speedway, understood that despite not getting the chance to race for a title in his best statistical year ever, it wasn’t necessarily reflective of him or the No. 4 team; it was a product of the format.
“It didn’t go our way. We fought for everything we had, and it just came up short,” Harvick said last season. “You have to put them together three weeks at a time, and it comes down to one race, and it came down to one race for us tonight and came up short. […] We had a great year.”
When asked if this was one of the hardest things to swallow over his two decades in the NASCAR Cup Series, he responded: “I’ve been punched in the gut a lot harder.”
Sounds like a veteran who has seen the playoffs evolve and knows that while each champion is nothing but deserving, it may not always be determined the “fair” way.
Is it fair that Harvick won nine times and missed out on Phoenix Raceway last year? No, but nobody said this game was fair.
Think about it this way: a driver can win 35 races, lead every single lap but the very last one of the season and not win the championship. That’s how this format is built, like it or leave it.
And let me be clear: I like the format. I think things can probably be tweaked a little bit and Harvick not making it last year was a bad look. But overall, NASCAR has gotten what they wanted out of the playoffs and this format: Game 7 moments (looking at you, Brian France).
Will Larson win the title this year? Nobody knows yet. But, regardless of if he does or not, it doesn’t change the stats. Nine wins (and counting), the most laps led over a 36-race season in the modern era and some of the most dominant runs we’ve seen in recent memory.
He may have a 25% shot at being the champion in Phoenix, but he damn sure shouldn’t hang his head if he falls short of the big trophy.
Does NASCAR really have a “problem” on its hands, and is Formula 1 close to surpassing them? – Mia T., Houston, Texas
Not really, no. Formula 1 is the world’s premier form of motorsport. NASCAR is America’s premier form of motorsport. There’s a big difference.
Sure, F1’s popularity in the States is rising rapidly, much in part thanks to Netflix’s Drive to Survive along with Max Verstappen‘s and Lewis Hamilton‘s title battle this year on the heels of another great DTS season. And did you see those scenes at Circuit of the Americas this weekend?
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 24, 2021
The TV ratings bore out that NASCAR, unsurprisingly, won out.
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) October 26, 2021
But in that coveted younger demographic, F1 won out.
U.S. motorsports viewership last weekend:
1) NASCAR Cup (NBCSN): 2.105 million
2) NASCAR Xfinity (NBC): 1.306 million
3) F1 (ABC): 1.225 million
4) MotoGP (NBC): 510,000
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) October 26, 2021
Again, part of that can be attributed to Drive to Survive, and despite it seeming like NASCAR is driving to survive right now (ha, see what I did there?), it’ll be just fine. And is just fine.
F1 comes to the U.S. once a year (didn’t in 2020) and will be coming twice in 2022. Perhaps three times in 2023, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. NASCAR and F1 are not competitors. Never have been, never will be. So even though the two were pitted against each other on Sunday afternoon (Oct. 24) and it seems like Formula 1 had the “it” factor, NASCAR will always reign king in America.
… But what F1 is doing shouldn’t be ignored.
DTS’ impact is way bigger than anybody could have ever predicted, the series’ digital coverage is second to none, broadcasts treat viewers like race fans (without commercials, by the way, thanks to Sky Sports for that) and feels like an event.
That’s what the Frontstretch Podcast will talk about this week (drops Wednesday night, Oct. 27) with Martinsville Speedway track president Clay Campbell: making NASCAR races events.
Whatever F1 has going on right now, NASCAR would benefit from taking a good, hard look at. A rising tide lifts all boats, right?
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