NASCAR proves playoffs don’t belong in motorsport

Adrian Musolino Columnist

By Adrian Musolino, Adrian Musolino is a Roar Expert

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    Kyle Busch on the NASCAR track in 2014.

    Only in NASCAR could a driver miss the first 11 races of the season, just under one third of the campaign, and still return to win the championship.

    Kyle Busch did so last weekend, taking out the final race of the season to win the championship decider in Miami.

    NASCAR enjoyed strong ratings and hailed the triumphant return of Busch from a broken leg and foot to champion. But at what cost for the actual sporting contest?

    The Chase works in a similar fashion to most other American sports, though is adapted for the peculiarities of racing. Drivers earn qualification into the Chase with wins during the 26 races. In the Chase, drivers are eliminated from title contention over four stages, until just four drivers remain for a winner-takes-all finale.

    In the NASCAR world, where entertainment is the name of the game and keeping the championship alive with a guaranteed showdown is essential, the Chase is now an accepted practice.

    But how can a driver be crowned champion when they miss such a large chunk of the season? Joey Logano, the pacesetter for much of the year, finished in the top ten 28 times over the 36 races compared to Busch’s 15 top tens, yet Logano couldn’t contend for the championship at the season finale after being taken out in an earlier Chase stage.

    While it undoubtedly ramps up the excitement in the latter rounds, it definitely had an impact on the excitement levels of the regular season, where drivers know a win at some point will earn them progression into the Chase. So why push each round when all that matters is qualification for the Chase and then the playoff at the end of the season?

    The Chase creates this distortion and rewards form at a particular point of the season, rather than a whole campaign. Therefore, crowning a deserving champion often doesn’t happen. While it works for ball sports that are based on head-to-head team battles, it’s hard for motorsport to replicate that formula when the Chase contenders must do combat with out-of-the-running rivals.

    Logano found this out the hard way at Martinsville, where his Chase hopes were shot after he was wrecked by rival Matt Kenseth. NASCAR’s culture of drivers taking revenge into their own hands doesn’t help validate a Chase system, where the best drivers over the course of the season can be knocked out through no fault of their own at the critical Chase stages.

    It’s unsurprising, therefore, that ratings and crowd numbers for the NASCAR regular season are in free fall while the Chase results in an inevitable resurgence.

    Those who point to the Chase as a potential template for changes to the V8 Supercars championship need to remember the manufactured playoff format comes at the cost of sporting traditions.

    When fans are left to question the integrity of the championship and deservingness of the champion, the system is flawed.

    The V8 Supercars’ upcoming championship finale may not have the drama of NASCAR’s, with Mark Winterbottom enjoying a healthy points buffer over Craig Lowndes, but at least a deserving champion will be crowned based on a season’s worth of racing.

    Adrian Musolino
    Adrian Musolino

    Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.

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    The Crowd Says (6)

    • November 26th 2015 @ 7:51am
      nordster said | November 26th 2015 @ 7:51am | ! Report

      The only thing playoffs are good for is in promotion contests from one division to another….

    • November 26th 2015 @ 10:29am
      Mo said | November 26th 2015 @ 10:29am | ! Report

      This is why Jeff Gordon is a 7 Time Champion! Go 24!!

      • November 26th 2015 @ 9:40pm
        Kevin said | November 26th 2015 @ 9:40pm | ! Report

        A) I have heard nothing but positive comments on KB’s championship run, most pointing out that his recovery time and what he did after his return, winning 4 out of the next 5 races, was nothing short of amazing. So once again the rest of the racing world has a problem with how NASCAR works and one again the NASCAR community does not care what they think.
        B) Mo, Gordon only has 4 championships, way to be a true fan!

        • Roar Guru

          November 27th 2015 @ 1:21pm
          Andrew Kitchener said | November 27th 2015 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

          Was I the only one surprised when Gordon didn’t get “The Call” from NASCAR?

    • Roar Guru

      November 27th 2015 @ 12:51pm
      Andrew Kitchener said | November 27th 2015 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

      I’m a little sympathetic to Kyle’s plight, as his horrible crash at Daytona took place in an area of the track where safety measures were, at best, ineffective. If NASCAR and the track had done the right thing and installed SAFER barrier everywhere, this would’ve been a moot point. And his mid-summer stretch of wins more than made him eligible, under the rules.

      As for the TV ratings, they’re being trumpeted as MASSIVE by the powers-that-be in Daytona Beach, but the reality is the race ran long on NBC and ratings spiked noticeably right at the end. Not because there was a dramatic finish, but because people were tuning in expecting to see “Football Night in America”, the huge-rating NFL pre-game show that normally runs. So the eventual numbers are a little skewed. They wouldn’t have been half as big if there hadn’t been a rain delay, thus catching viewers turning over from the conclusion of the 4:25pm football game, expecting Football Night, realising there was only ten laps to go in the race before NBC switched right over, and hung around as a result.

    • November 28th 2015 @ 8:12am
      Bobby said | November 28th 2015 @ 8:12am | ! Report

      The system was designed based on an attitude of “forget points racing, we want the drivers going for the win”. To make the first knockout round, you had to be one of the 15 top drivers in wins or the regular season champion in points. If there are not 15 drivers with wins, then points fill in all other brackets. Advancement in each round is based on winning races, with points filling out the balance. The elimination format has some basis in the US PGA Tour golf — In each knockout tournament during the four tournament playoff, the bottom 30 players in the points standings after the tournament (except in the first round, 25 players, not 30) are eliminated from the championship hunt. The rules are written in effect where a golfer who wins the tournament effectively will advance to the next round.

      Two other points not mentioned are the modern NASCAR schedule that is effectively the second-longest Championship Fixture list in professional sports (the Premier League’s 38 regular season fixtures list is longer by two fixtures), with 36 fixtures, that led to NBC commentator Jeff Burton noting how with modern concussion protocols, a driver who misses races because of the stricter injury protocol is no longer penalised for missing the event. Burton’s children are competitive athletes in sports with concussion protocols — son Harrison is a club racing driver and daughter Paige is a competitive equestrienne, so he understands concussion protocols in NASCAR and FEI events.

      Until the end of the 1990 season, Formula One counted no more than two-thirds of a driver’s finishes, with the rule famously being 11 of 16, leading to controversy when Alain Prost scored more points than Ayrton Senna in 1988 but lost on the rule, and again in 1990, where Senna took out Prost in the opening lap of Suzuka to ensure Prost could not drop one of his lower points-scoring finishes and replace it with a better finish to take the title fight to Adelaide. In Formula E last season, a driver’s worst finish (not exclusions) could be dropped.

      Using the F1 rule with the same 68.75 percent rule, 24.75 races of 36 count, rounded up to 25 races, Kyle Busch was in effect having to race an entire season without any mulligans with the F1 logic. The championship was crew chief Adam Stevens and owner Joe Gibbs title more than Busch; in effect, the team had to round up a Truck championship driver to start the season, then give the reigns to a journeyman driver who ran a fourths of the season before letting Gibbs’ prized developmental driver run the race before Busch’s return. Gibbs was an NFL coach who had to worry about Redskins players getting hurt and plugged in holes, so his experience there helped the team.

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