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NASCAR’s Playoff System Is Obsessed With Winning — To A Fault


Issues have been going from unhealthy to worse for Martin Truex Jr. Within the thick of Sunday’s Federated Auto Components 400 in Richmond, Virginia, the 2017 NASCAR Cup Sequence champion was trying to find a win to provide himself a playoff spot however as an alternative discovered himself hobbled. Truex had simply gotten clipped by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on Lap 156, and although he would battle again within the closing laps to complete seventh and forward of fellow bubble driver Ryan Blaney, he misplaced floor in NASCAR’s playoff standings. Consequently, the driving force who ranks second within the 2022 subject in common ending place and fifth in whole laps led most likely wants a Hail Mary victory in one of many subsequent two races simply to qualify for one the game’s 16 playoff spots.

Truex presently sits seventeenth within the playoff standings, simply on the unsuitable aspect of the all-important rating cutoff. And at first look, Truex’s placement is perplexing: In 24 races, he’s completed among the many prime 10 in practically half of them (11), with extra prime 5 finishes (three) than unfinished races (two). His common operating place of 11.8 at any given second of a race trails solely two drivers, Chase Elliott and Blaney. So when it comes to week-to-week consistency and staying close to the entrance of the pack, it’s onerous to argue 16 drivers deserve a greater likelihood on the Cup than Truex this season.

Nevertheless, there may be one main piece lacking from Truex’s case for a playoff berth: a first-place end. For all of his operating up entrance a lot of the season, Truex hasn’t really gained for the reason that second Richmond race in 2021, greater than 11 months in the past. That’s a giant drawback below the present playoff system, which prizes wins to an arguably inordinate diploma. So long as not more than 16 completely different drivers win a race — and the entire factors chief is one in every of them — each single race winner is assured a spot within the playoffs, irrespective of how skinny their resume is throughout your complete season.

In an earlier period of the game, Truex would have been a lot nearer to competing for the championship. If NASCAR nonetheless used its longtime pre-playoff championship system of rating by whole driver factors (which was in place for many years till the introduction of the Chase For The Cup in 2004), Truex would rank fourth, jockeying for a spot behind Elliott down the stretch run of the season. However the present period focuses closely on wins, a change which largely arose out of the 2003 season, when hyper-consistent Matt Kenseth gained the Cup Sequence championship regardless of profitable fewer races (one) than 9 different drivers — together with Ryan Newman, who claimed eight occasions as many checkered flags as Kenseth however completed a distant sixth within the factors. Whereas NASCAR denies that Kenseth’s success was the motivating issue behind the creation of the playoffs (and with it a heightened — and rising — give attention to wins), it’s clear that the game has chosen to err on the aspect of rewarding winners over reliable finishers ever since.

In most seasons, the present system nonetheless permits drivers like Truex to sneak into the playoffs, since non-race winners qualify so as based mostly on the purpose standings. However 2022 has seen an unimaginable carousel of winners over the primary 24 races of the season. Together with Kevin Harvick’s current unlikely back-to-back victories, 15 completely different drivers have gained this yr, which is tied (with 2002, 2003 and 2011) for probably the most distinctive winners over the primary 24 races of a season since NASCAR’s fashionable period started in 1972.

Which means all however a type of 16 coveted playoff spots have been snatched up by means of race wins, leaving few leftover scraps for non-winners to struggle over. Blaney hasn’t gained this season both, regardless of posting numbers each bit as spectacular as Truex’s (if no more so). If the 2 drivers’ spots have been reversed, we’d be speaking concerning the injustice of Blaney probably lacking the playoffs. Both manner, it appears clear that a minimum of among the best drivers of the 2022 Cup Sequence season won’t get an opportunity to drive for the championship.

Level methods and playoff setups are inherently arbitrary in racing, in fact, and there’s an extended historical past of complaints concerning the edge circumstances they inevitably trigger. In 2017, Truex himself significantly benefited from the newly launched system of bonus factors for stage wins throughout his slender championship victory over Kyle Busch, Harvick and Brad Keselowski. (In equity, Truex was very clearly one of the best driver of that season and it could have been a disgrace if he was not additionally the champion.) Generally NASCAR’s famously convoluted playoff system giveth, typically it taketh away.

20 years in the past, NASCAR reacted to an aberrant season through which wins weren’t credited sufficient by pumping up the worth of every checkered flag. This season may be the other — one with so many one-off winners that it exposes the restrictions of all however guaranteeing them playoff berths on the expense of constant driving. It doesn’t matter what, some deserving drivers will get squeezed by the system, and that’s a lesson Truex may be taught the onerous manner over the following few weeks.

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