Wednesday, 19 February 2020

NASCAR makes yet another totally unnecessary, baffling change – Beyond the Flag

NASCAR makes yet another totally unnecessary, baffling change – Beyond the Flag
23 Jan

NASCAR’s switch from eight playoff drivers to 10 in the Truck Series adds to the list of unnecessary and quite baffling changes that the sanctioning body has made.

After the first four seasons of NASCAR Truck Series playoffs, NASCAR decided to alter the playoff format ahead of the 23-race 2020 season.

The playoffs are still slated to feature seven races over the course of three rounds, with three races in the first two rounds prior to the season finale, but instead of eight drivers, 10 drivers are slated to compete in them.

Two drivers will still be eliminated after the opening round, which is now the round of 10, but four will be eliminated after the second round, which is now the round of 8, leading up to the Championship 4. The round of 6 has effectively been removed.

With all things considered when it comes to the playoffs, could there have been a more unnecessary and baffling change to the NASCAR playoffs at any level at this point?

Here is what managing director Brad Moran had to say about why this change was implemented ahead of the 2020 season, according to NASCAR.

“The way the format was structured in the Gander Truck Series with the Round of 8, Round of 6, Round of 4, we were leaving some excitement on the table. Maybe three or four years ago, not so much, but certainly the last couple of years with the series strengthening to the position it’s in right now, we really felt putting 10 teams into the playoffs for a Round of 10 is just going to make it that much more exciting and interesting, and will put a lot of emphasis on winning races, which is what we try to do.”

Now let’s take a look at the statistics from the beginning of the Truck Series playoffs in 2016 to now and analyze how, exactly, this statement relates to any of this.

Full-time drivers (all 23 races)…

  • 2016: 14
  • 2017: 12
  • 2018: 11
  • 2019: 11

…factoring in full-time drivers who missed races

  • 2016: 17
  • 2017: 16
  • 2018: 15
  • 2019: 16

Regular season race winners (among playoff drivers)

  • 2016: 6
  • 2017: 6
  • 2018: 5
  • 2019: 6

A total of eight drivers is more than half of the full-time field to begin with, even without the extra two. Additionally, three or four years ago, this change would have actually made more sense since more drivers tended to compete throughout the entire season.

And where, exactly, is the emphasis on winning races? This expansion puts a clear emphasis on points over anything and everything else.

These two extra playoff spots will not be occupied by winners. They simply will not be, period. Never before has more than 75% of the eight-driver playoff field been occupied by regular season winners. In a 10-driver format, that percentage shrinks to just over half at 60%.

There aren’t suddenly going to be 10 different winners in 16 races to leave out a potential driver from the playoffs who otherwise would have qualified well up the order on points. And as long as Kyle Busch is around competing in his five regular season races per year, that really amounts to 10 different winners in fewer than 16 races — 11 if he wins all five like he did in 2019.

If anything, having a more limited number of playoff spots open in a win-and-in playoff format puts an emphasis on winning races.

But this is the exact opposite. Winning might as well be optional now, because that’s what it amounts to. And the regular season might as well be billed as useless, because aside of the few playoff points that drivers can pick up here and there, the meaning of it has shrunk.

Fighting hard for 16 races over the course of six months just to get a few playoffs points ahead of the rest of the field for two make-or-break three-race playoff rounds is not what NASCAR is about, nor what it should be about.

These points, not the playoff berths themselves, are what they’ll be fighting for, as many drivers will basically be playoff locks. The regular season is effectively now a 16-race opening playoff round that will eliminate two or three drivers.

We already had a driver win the title without winning a single race throughout the entire season, as Matt Crafton pulled it off this past season, and the odds of it happening again just shot up.

What an amazing “emphasis on winning races”!

The NFL expanding to 24 playoff teams would make more sense than this. The 6-10 Cleveland Browns clearly deserve just as much of a chance to win the Super Bowl as the 13-3 San Francisco 49ers, right?

But I digress.

Next: Top 10 NASCAR drivers of all-time

By moving from eight playoff drivers to 10 ahead of the 2020 NASCAR Truck Series season, did the sanctioning body make the right move, or is this an aspect of the sport that should have been left alone?



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