And the Real True Playoff Winner Is...
The end of the road for our “Real True Playoff” (RTP). If you tuned in earlier you know that RTP was an exercise we started a race or two ago where a true playoff system was discussed in which contenders were seeded and paired up for elimination. It was a different way of looking at the methodology used and included head-to-head competition. This contrasts with the current Brian France Playoff (BFP), which to anyone who follows sports is a Playoff in name only.
If you recall, at time of the last article we were in the process of whittling the RTP field down from the “Elite Eight” to the “Final Four”. Kansas would be the decider between the following matchups, with these matchup winners advancing to settle it all at Martinsville.
2-Busch vs. 7-Hamlin
3-Larson vs. 6-Harvick
4-Keslowski vs. 5-Johnson
They went to Kansas and when the day was done Truex was in Victory Lane, pulling the Kansas sweep. This win plus his Charlotte win advances him to the finals at Martinsville having won the “Battle of the Juniors.”
Denny Hamlin eliminated Kyle Busch through hard racing and strong consistent finishes. At KC, even though he finished fifth, he walked away with the most points earned for that day, further solidifying his lead over his teammate, much to the chagrin of car owner Coach Gibbs.
Kyle Larson’s uncharacteristic blown engine ended an otherwise outstanding season and sealed the deal for Kevin Harvick to slide into the Martinsville Final Four.
Kez’s win at Talladega plus stout finishes in the other two races sent Jimmie Johnson to an early out. Eight will have to wait until next year under this RTP.
So the “Final Four” going into Martinsville was
Not a bad final lineup for a “Real True Playoff.” Note-these four are all still in the BFP, “Brian France’s Playoff” as well. Not sure if that is good or bad… just an observation.
Would this be better if Busch, Larson and Johnson had made it in? Possibly. Sure would have been from a Manufacturers’ standpoint as there is not a GM product in the Final-just two Toyotas and two Fords, duking it out on a track where GM is normally pretty strong. Unfortunately those two Chevys got matched up against the wrong competitor at the wrong time to start having inconsistent performances. They paid the price.
Additional Note - Larson didn't make it to the final under the BFP either. Again, just an observation.
I’m sure Johnson going into the Final for his eighth Cup Championship would have been a great story line. Kyle Larson would have definitely kept his many fans in it and would have been a nice exit for long-time sponsor, Target. Unfortunately for those, it is what it is, just one of those racing deals.
The RTP come to a close at Martinsville. It looked like Keselowski had the race and the Championship in the bag until a late caution caused by his teammate allowed the field to close. On the restart, Chase Elliott looked like he was going to get his first win until Final Four driver Denny Hamlin dozed him going into the turn, spinning Chase’s win chances away. The resulting overtime restart saw Kyle Busch edging Martin Truex Jr. at the line in a wild finish with a track-blocking “Little Big One” triggered by Denny Hamlin erupting behind them. The whole mess was best described in PattyKay Lilley’s recent article on the subject
When it was all sorted out the final finishing order for the race was…
2-Martin Truex Jr.
… to give us our first winner of the “Real True Playoff” - Martin Truex Jr.
Brad Keselowski was second, followed by Kevin Harvick and Denny “Demo Derby” Hamlin.
“Real True Playoff”… RTP… kinda silly, sorta different and plenty of fun. At KC I found myself keeping up with the matchups more than watching the ever changing “Cutoff Line.” The matchups just seem to make things more personal, which got me more involved… but I know that's just me. I kinda had a vested interest in it to begin with. The concept did generate some alternative Playoff scenario discussions though as others jumped in to share their “Playoff” concepts and thoughts.
In the original article comments, Andrew H. detailed a playoff that would have a three race “final” series instead of a single “top-finisher-take-all” finale at Homestead. In his discussion stretching the “finals” over an intermediate track, short track and road course would determine a more fitting Champion. His system more closely resembled MLB, NBA, and NHL style of Playoff and would expand the Playoff from 10 races to 12. Interesting concept indeed… if you are into playoffs.
Off-line, Jack Protagonist proposed more of a NCAA “March Madness” or NHRA on steroids type of playoff. Under his system the top 32 finishers in the regular season would be seeded and paired up with the higher finisher in each pairing advancing to the next round. But unlike the NCAA’s version the advancing teams would be reseeded after each race. The reseeding would keep the drivers driving hard without all the math of points and bonus points and all that mess we currently experience. Under Jack’s proposal, after the remaining 16 contenders were reseeded we’d race again to get the field to 8, then repeat for 4 and then 2.
Now THAT’S a Really TRUE Playoff!
Some great things about Jack’s version is with 32 qualifiers there are lots of “Cinderellas.” Even though top drivers may have “easier” matchups in the early rounds (1 vs 32 in Round 1), they still have to race hard for a good seed in the next round. Finally, the whole thing is over in five races-four if you go with a Final Four instead of two finalists. That definitely has a lot of appeal as we slog through the final races of a 10 race BFP.
The killer part of it though is like “March Madness” or an NHRA weekly event or NFL’s playoff, one bad race can end your season run. Talk about pressure for everyone, each and every playoff race. Adds a whole new meaning to “one and done” doesn't it?
Earlier, even Matt McLaughlin weighed in on the whole Champion-Crowning business and made a compelling argument that “whichever driver wins the most races in a season wins the title.” Period. Paragraph. Interesting concept-hard to argue.
And of course, then we have what we have, the “BFP”.
Lots of ways to go about having a Playoff. Whatever method is used, the main question that should be asked is did the most deserving driver win? Did it “select” the “right” driver? Not, was it exciting enough, but was it “right” enough? That was one of the things I liked about the Latford System. Even in those “boring” years when the Championship was clinched early, there was little question who was Champ. It rarely got “it” wrong.
That said, if a system doesn't definitely answer that, if it doesn't do that, is it really the best methodology for the sport to be using for its Champ-crowning?
One thing about our little exercise, I believe at least for this time, the “Real True Playoff”, got it “right.” Using it, the most deserving driver is its “Champion.”
Congratulations, Martin Truex Jr, 2018 RTP Champion!
Now let's see if we can say the same thing with the Brian France Playoff after Homestead.
Outrunning the Bear - in a related article we discussed how by points racing a driver could win the Championship without winning a race. To win under the BFP, a driver doesn't have to win races to advance (although that's the mantra), just be the fifth worst in points round after round and you too can roll right into Homestead and compete for the Cup.
At the time of that article, Matt Kenseth and Chase Elliott were in contention and winless. Unfortunately, only Chase remains as at KC the bear got Matt. Well, not really. Matt was eliminated when after a crash, seven of his crew members went over the wall to repair the damage. The rules allow only six (except for servicing the driver-which is another story). The penalty was parking the #20 for the remainder of the race, killing his chances to advance to the next round.
Those are the rules and that's the penalty but the time hardly fits the crime. NASCAR’s handling of this situation is akin to the NFL sending the Patriots to the locker room and forfeiting a semifinal game after being flagged for too many men on the field during a play in the third quarter. How is that fair?
I understand the safety aspect but in this case the harshness of the penalty is not warranted. NASCAR once again showed it could gag on gnats while swallowing elephants. I hope the whole “five minute clock” experiment goes away next season and becomes an unpleasant memory. That said, it won’t, so I hope NASCAR at least inserts some sanity into the penalty phase of this unnecessary rule.
With Matt out, Chase now picks up the winless Champ mantle. He was sitting in pretty good shape going into Martinsville. During the final laps of the race it looked like he would remove himself from the winless Champ candidate with what should have been his first win.
Denny Hamlin took care of that and the chance for the first winless Champ in one fell swoop. Dozing Chase out of the way while leading knocked him out of the win. The resulting 27th place finish puts him so far behind that a win at a Phoenix is about his only route to Homestead. So either way Brian France dodged another bullet as it is all but assured that his Champ will have a win this time.
Can Kyle Larson Do It? Do what you ask? Well he can’t win the Cup. An ill-timed blown engine sealed that deal. No, can one of the hottest drivers on the circuit, though eliminated from the Playoff, win a Playoff Race? You’d think he’d have a good chance - better than most. However, since the elimination format was adopted in 2014 there have been only 4 Chase races won by non-Chasers or eliminated Chasers. None by Non-Chasers and four by Eliminated-Chasers with the last one by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Phoenix. By my count that's 4 of 38 races. Can Kyle make it 5 of 39 at Phoenix? Can anyone else make it five? He’s got a good car; he's a good driver, driving for a good team. Normally I’d like his chances, but if past performance indicates future results, it's a long shot at best.
Two more races.
Let’s see how this all plays out.