By Robert Schloemer, NASCAR Fan Contributer – Follow on Twitter @SchloemerZ
*Editor’s note: The Schloemer Zone is a place for NASCAR fans to hear the ranting and raving of a true NASCAR fan — Robert Schloemer. Schloemer is not a trained journalist, and has no skin in the game financially, he is just a huge NASCAR fan and has agreed to bring his thoughts and opinions in a periodic column on The Final Lap.
Within the NASCAR fan base, there seems to be a huge split on opinion on the NASCAR playoffs. As you know, I am all about opinions. Let’s delve into the current NASCAR playoff system.
What is it? How does it work? And lastly, why do I ABSOLUTELY FREAKIN’ LOVE IT?
For most of NASCAR’s history, a championship has been contested and won on a season-long points system. For years there were many ways during a race to gain points: leading laps, winning the race, gaining position and so on. There was no championship race. No buildup to the end of the year. Usually a champion was crowned before the final race of the year and sometimes multiple races before the “Grand Finale.”
This begs the question, why would you even go to the final event, if the championship was already clinched 1 or 2 weeks beforehand? I never liked this when I was growing up — before the chase or the playoffs were instituted. At the end of the season, it leaves you wondering, is that it? Is that our Superbowl? How anti-climactic.
Now for the record, I am not a fan of “manufactured drama”. But that isn’t what the playoffs are in NASCAR. There is a difference between rules creating drama, and manufacturing drama from nothing.
But I digress. For anyone that doesn’t know how it works, here is a basic rundown of how the playoff system works.
The current playoffs are consisted of 26 races in the regular season and 10 races in the post season. During the first 26 races drivers accrue points. If you win a race, you’re automatically locked into the Playoffs, and you receive Playoff points for each victory that carry through the different rounds of the Playoffs. As an added bonus in the 2017 season, stage racing was included. And with the addition of the stages, also came the addition of more playoff points if you could win a Stage.
These added playoff points stay with you all through the playoffs and you never lose them. Also, even with 16 drivers making the Playoffs you most likely won’t have 16 different winners in 26 races. Those remaining spots are filled by the top driver’s in regular season points that haven’t gotten a win.
Once the playoffs start, the 16 playoff drivers get there points essential “reset” if you have accrued playoff points, you keep those. You get one playoff point for a stage win and 5 playoff points for a race win. The playoffs are split into three, three-race rounds, and at the end of a round the bottom four drivers are dropped from the playoffs and points are reset.
What the current points system puts on is a great show. Drivers battling for stage wins in the middle of the race brings added excitement. The battle for a win becomes even more important, as it could lead to a guaranteed shot at the finale. As Martin Truex Jr. showed us in 2017, playoff points are the utmost importannce when gunning for a title.
Now, we will get into many fan’s complaints that I’ve seen and heard this year. And maybe I can change your mind.
A lot of fans don’t like stages, and I can somewhat understand some of their issues, but the cons are definitely outweighed by the pros.
The complaint I usually hear is let them race, don’t stop the race with a yellow flag. I can understand this. We always complain about wanting to see less unneeded cautions (phantoms debris, a driver spinning all by himself and continue going causing no danger for more wrecks) and I see peoples issue with yet another caution in a race.
I think this gripe could be fixed with just a wave of the green and white checkered flag, but no caution afterwards. But then again, the permanent caution does play a significant role in fuel and pit strategy. And restarts, restarts are always fun right?
I hear this one a lot, and it is proven to be simply not true.
The complaint is that the playoffs don’t reward the best driver in the season as a whole. I disagree completely. When you win, you receive playoff points. These bonus points give you significant advantages during the playoffs themselves. When the playoff driver’s points are reset, then the added bonus of playoff points is seen. You may start a round with 40 or more points than your 15 other play off competitors. This makes every win and every stage win that much more important throughout the course of the regular season.
The more successful you are during the regular season at winning (which I think we can all agree should be the most important aspect of racing) the more advantage you have during your playoff run.
Take Truex’s championship run in 2017 as a perfect example. 18 stage wins and 53 playoff points in the regular season alone, he was 50 points to the good of the lowest playoff driver — Jamie McMurray with 3 points– at the start of the playoffs. This gave him a huge buffer to the other drivers, which gave him an incredible playoff opportunity that eventually ended in his first Monster Energy Cup championship.
It should also be noted that during the playoffs, Truex scored even more playoff points with more stage and race wins. So yeah, the best performing driver — or drivers — of the year DOES benefit from the playoffs, in a big, big way.
Also a lot of people don’t like the finale race at Homestead Miami, and I think it is because of the total different rules they have. When the Championship 4 make it to Homestead, their points again get reset, but this time everyone is at 0, no playoffs points are added.
Again, I can see the upset fan’s point. All off a sudden, who was best during the season doesn’t matter.
I get it.
But listen to my counter argument. First of all, to even make it the Championship 4 is a feat in its own. These four drivers are, and for good reason, celebrated. They are already champions in eyes of fans. They have earned it.
Second, this is the finale. You want to see the best of the best throwing everything they have at the track. You want to see a battle for the ages. That is good racing. If you want to see a driver enter the final race with a 42 point lead and literally start it and park it to win the championship, then I cannot help you.
We need an exciting finale. This is the PINNACLE of the season. You want to sell those tickets to Homestead. You want the maximum viewership. You want to see titans fighting it out in an earth shattering finale of a race. That is racing. The four best who duke it out to the end. The first playoff car to the finish line wins the big trophy. Wins the accolades. He/She wins the season.
In conclusion, the playoffs are an incredible addition to the sport. They add the potential for drama, side by side racing, and SPOILER ALERT, some of the craziest things you will ever see a team do to a car (here is looking at you Rodney). So good luck to this year’s Championship 4 this weekend at Homestead. You’ve earned it!
Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images