Its an exciting season with a new car, new winners, and a new attitude in Nascar—so of course Nascar is on the verge of doing what it does best, painting itself into a corner.
You see, when Nascar first instituted its current Playoff format (16 drivers with regular eliminations), it was made very clear that “if you win, you’re in” (as long as you were a full-time driver), because how could there POSSIBLY be more than 16 winners?!?
Yeah, about that.
There have been fifteen different winners so far this season, so with three races to go we could wind up with as many as TWO race winners missing the Playoffs. This means we could also wind up with arguably the most-pointless (pun!) win in Nascar history if someone way back in the points wins the Coke Zero 400 regular season finale at Daytona—a track that’s always a wild card.
So how can Nascar fix this? Well, as I see it, there’s three options available (assuming that Nascar is going to hold onto its Playoff format for dear life):
1.) Keep things as-is. On the one hand it will put further importance on season-long performance and prevent a fluke winner from making the Playoffs. On the other hand, it’ll make it kind of awkward for broadcasters to call an upset win, and say “And he’s just locked himself into the Playoffs, assuming there aren’t 16 or more winners this season, in which case he’s likely going to miss out.”
2.) Expand the Playoffs. In this concept every race winner in the top-thirty in points would qualify (plus the points leader if he happens to be winless). Honestly, this would make the most sense to me—you keep the excitement of someone winning their way into the Playoffs on a road course, plate track, or on fuel mileage, but still cut down the Playoff field to 12 after three races. Granted, this would only happen when there were more than 16 winners, and hey, its happened before (the infamous “Itchy Arm” addition of Jeff Gordon). Only downside? It would increase the belief that Nascar simply changes the rules when it suits them.
3.) Have a “race-off”. Its a wild concept, but hear me out—if there’s, say, six drivers with multiple wins, and twelve drivers with single wins, have those twelve compete in a 50 lap race Monday after the regular season finale. The bottom two finishers miss the Playoffs, giving us a 16-driver field. Sure, it would be crazy. And sure, it would be gimmicky. But tell me you wouldn’t be interested in seeing it!
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