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3 BIG Changes NASCAR Could Make to the Playoff Format

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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It’s hard to believe that NASCAR has had some sort of a Playoff format for almost two decades now. Over the years, it has gone through some significant changes, but opinion is still very much split on the Playoffs. Not everyone is going to be happy no matter what format is used, but, that doesn’t mean the current format is perfect.

What changes can or should NASCAR realistically make to the Playoffs? Is there a way to make the Playoffs a more fair system than we see now? Let’s take a look at both sides of each of these changes.

1. Shrink the Playoff Field

This is one of the biggest points of contention amongst fans. In 2004, the Playoff grid originally consisted of 10 drivers. That expanded to 12 drivers in 2007 before the current 16-driver grid started in 2014.

In the Gen-6 era particularly, many drivers who had no realistic Championship shot would make the Playoffs simply because of the 16-team format. However, the next-gen era is not immune, as 15 different winners made the Playoffs last year.

The question becomes, do 16 NASCAR Cup Series teams really have a chance at winning a Championship? Not in the theoretical possibility sense, but in the realistic performance sense. The most sensible thing in this instance is to shrink the field maybe back to 12 or even 10 drivers.

However, the counter is that the 16-driver format allows for underdogs to have their chance at making the Playoffs. Not every team operates under the same budget, and the 16-team Playoff format allows them a chance to really compete. As opposed to years they would normally be 20th-25th in points in the past, they would instead be in the top-16.

2. Make the Championship-4 More Than Just One Race

Now, the Championship-4 round is the only round of the Playoffs where it is just one race. Every other round of eliminations is three races, and some wonder whether or not that is the best format.

Is it fair to boil down an entire season’s worth of performance to just one race? In other sports, most of these Playoff games are seven-game series, so, if it boils down to a final game, it’s because the competition made it necessary. Even in sports like football, where it’s a one-and-done, the higher-seeded team gets home-field advantage. The solution to this could be to make the Championship-4 round a multi-race round rather than just one race.

However, is there anything truly more exciting than everything coming down to just one race? That aspect of the Playoffs is simple to understand for fans, drivers, and teams. There is no points-related math that has to be considered, but it is instead as simple as just one race with the highest finisher taking the crown.

3. Take Away Win-and-You’re-In

The win-and-you’re-in style of Playoffs has been in action since the field expanded in 2014. There is a scenario that currently exists where a winner could miss the Playoffs, but, so far, there have not been more than 15 winners in a season since 2014.

Win-and-you’re-in means that drivers and teams that have been terrible or missed races all season long can get in by sheer luck or circumstance. Some wins come out of complete nowhere because of a timely strategy, a timely rainstorm in the case of Justin Haley, or even a big accident. Is that really the best determining factor of Playoff eligibility?

With that being said, remember the days when people complained that wins did not mean enough? Darrell Waltrip even said they did not mean enough after he won the 1985 Championship with three wins over Bill Elliott who had 11 wins. Now, wins mean everything, and they also give smaller teams that glimmer of hope to make the Playoffs if everything breaks right.

The NASCAR Playoffs can be a lightning rod for NASCAR fans. Some love it, but others hate it. Could there be changes made for there to be the best of both worlds?

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

All Posts