Since the modern elimination-style Playoffs were introduced in 2014, every driver’s goal has been to make the Championship 4. Without making the Championship 4, it is impossible to walk away with the big trophy at the end of the season. However, with how random the final race can be, do Championship 4 appearances matter more than a Championship itself?
A Look at Who Has Made the Championship 4
While the final Championship race and the Playoffs itself is criticized for how random it can be, for the most part, drivers who make the Championship 4 have earned their way there. Here is a list of the drivers with the most Championship 4 appearances since the format was introduced in 2014.
- Kyle Busch: 5 (2 Championships)
- Kevin Harvick: 5 (1 Championship)
- Joey Logano: 5 (2 Championships)
- Martin Truex Jr.: 5 (1 Championship)
- Denny Hamlin: 4
- Chase Elliott: 3 (1 Championship)
If you look at the sport from 2014 onwards, you could make a case that these have been the six best Cup Series drivers on track throughout that era. These have been the drivers that have been consistent threats to win every week. Here are the drivers with the amount of race wins as follows: Kyle Busch (35 Wins), Kevin Harvick (37 Wins), Joey Logano (29 Wins), Martin Truex Jr. (32 Wins), Denny Hamlin (28 Wins), and Chase Elliott (18 Wins).
On top of that, according to Racing Reference, four of the six drivers each would have won Championships if there were no elimination-style Playoffs under the current points format. The drivers include Kevin Harvick (2015, 2016, and 2020), Martin Truex Jr. (2017), Kyle Busch (2018 and 2019), and Chase Elliott (2022).
Even look further down the list at drivers like Kyle Larson. Larson is held in high esteem as one of the best race car drivers in the world, and he has made two of the last three Championship 4s. William Byron was the driver who put together likely the best overall season, and he was in the Championship 4 at Phoenix this year.
Even though the final race can be very random, getting to the Final Four takes a lot. It takes either a great regular season to build up a solid points cushion while keeping that momentum up throughout the Playoffs, or winning races at the right time. Generally speaking, the best drivers in the sport tend to at least make it to the final race with a few exceptions.
Should Championship 4 Appearances Be More Celebrated?
Championship 4 appearances tend to get forgotten. They are not even tracked as a driver stat on NASCAR.com or Racing Reference. However, getting there is a major accomplishment.
Kevin Harvick even said following being eliminated from the Playoffs in 2020, “These championships aren’t like winning like Petty and Earnhardt used to win them.” That’s not to say a modern Championship is not valuable, but, it’s much different than winning a Championship was in years past.
For some drivers and teams, small victories such as finishing in the top 5 in points or top 10 in points were a big deal, and making the Championship 4 is a big deal. If you make it to the Championship 4, you are a “Big Shot”, one way or another. Even in other sports, teams fly banners for getting to the Championship game or Championship Series even if they do not win it.
The Champion is always going to be what NASCAR markets the most as time goes on because they are the sport’s Champion, whether fans think it is an unfair format or not. However, making it to the Championship race is a big deal, and, that should be a marker of success in a career just like a Championship is. Maybe a simple start would be including it as an official stat on sites like NASCAR.com or Racing Reference.
What Matters More: A Championship 4 berth or a Championship?
At the end of the day, a Championship is always going to mean more in the eyes of NASCAR. However, Championship 4 appearances reflect the type of career and season that a driver had as well. They are worthwhile accomplishments, even if the Champion is the one who does the media tour and gets the big trophy at the end of the season.