If We Are Going to Have a Playoff, Make It a Real One
The 2017 season has been one of great change, more than can be discussed in a single posting. However, one I would like to discuss is the “change” in how the Series Season Champion is crowned.
For the previous thirteen years (has it really been that long?) it has been determined by something called a “Chase.” Over those years it has taken on many forms and recently morphed into something that included elimination rounds, where eligible drivers would be removed from contention during the final 10 races, resulting in four cars and four cars only contending in a highest-finisher-takes-all in the Homestead finale.
Fans immediately called it a “Playoff”. The Sanctioning Body wagged a finger and said “Nay, nay, nay! This is not a Playoff but a Chase. It's different and we’d appreciate it if you refrain from referring to it as a Playoff, for it's not.”
2017 rolled around and when this version of the Champion-Crowning methodology is rolled out it looks strikingly similar to the “Chase.” Fans continued to call it a “Chase”. The Sanctioning Body wagged a finger and said “Nay, nay, nay. This is not a Chase but a Playoff. It's different and we’d appreciate it if you refrain from referring to it as a Chase, for it's not.”
It may be semantics and I’m not sure how much it matters, but if I go out to my garage and stand before my Sport-Trac and say “You are now a Land Rover” it’s still a Sport-Trac, no matter how many times I repeat it, wag my finger or say “Nay, nay, nay”.
As Mike Helton said, “It is what it is.” I’m not sure what this is but it isn't a Playoff… no matter how much finger-wagging takes place.
For years now the Sanctioning Body has tried to move the sport from what made it unique and adapt it to things of stick and ball sports. So what if the Sanctioning Body actually got what they say they want, a true Playoff like the other sports instead of the Chase by another name? Have you ever thought what would it look like? How would it work? Could it even work?
Let's take a moment and see.
Playoffs as we know them are used by most major sports to determine a Champion. In racing there is one series that uses a Playoff and that is the NHRA. Cars qualify and are seeded in a bracket. Race head to head. Winner advances and loser goes home. Could an adaptation of this be used for this Series?
Our regular season with all the stages and points upon points would amount to qualifying, where the top 16 would advance to the first round of the Playoffs. These 16 would then be seeded based on their points finish order and paired with the top seed facing the #16 seed, second seed facing #15, and on until all sixteen are paired up.
So using this season's results and starting in Chicago we would have the following Playoff bracket. Here are your “Sweet Sixteen”- (the numbers are each drivers’ seed)
2-Larson vs. 15-Kenseth
3-Kyle Busch vs. 14-Kurt Busch
4-Keslowski vs. 13-Dillon
5-Johnson vs. 12-Newman
6-Harvick vs. 11-Kahne
7-Hamlin vs. 10-Elliott
8-Stenhouse vs. 9-Blaney
Now, instead of running a single race to determine who advances like NHRA, we run three races just like we currently do to see how things shake out for the next elimination round.
Guess what? When they left Dover, the top seeds in each of the brackets above “won” and advanced. So all those on the left side advance to the next round and all on the right fall out. Sorry guys. That's the way a true Playoff works.
For the next round, the “Elite Eight” we would re-seed again based on points to produce the following bracket-
2-Busch vs. 7-Hamlin
3-Larson vs. 4-Harvick
4-Keslowski vs. 5-Johnson
I don't know about you but that looked kinda interesting going into Talladega. Truex has a win, but Stenhouse is stout on the restrictor plate tracks. Could he catch the 78? Unfortunately, both got swept up into one of the many wrecks there and now Stenhouse is in a huge hole going to Kansas.
The Gibbs cars are facing off this round and only one can advance… Man, which pit box does Coach sit on this round? One thing we knew going into Talladega, these two wouldn't be riding around in the back this time. Unfortunately, Kyle got caught up the Big One while Denny finished stretching his lead to 21. On to Kansas to see if Kyle can claw back and move on.
Larson vs. Harvick - Young Gun vs. Veteran. Man, what a match up! It's just a shame both were taken out in the final wreck. That next race should be a dilly as Larson only has a seven point lead over the 2015 Champ.
Finally, can Kez take out 7-Time? Chances are now looking pretty good as Kez is leaving ‘Dega with the win and a 27-point lead after the 48 took a hard hit in the Big One. It’s a big deficit but it may come down to how many pit stalls Jimmie is allowed to use to complete his tire changes or how much repairs they are allowed to do under red. Sure would be neat to find out though.
Now, because we are eliminating cars at a faster clip under this true “Playoff” exercise, our “Final Four” would be set after Kansas, with Martinsville being our finale. We’ll keep an eye on things and report back and see how things shook out using a “true” Playoff.
Intriguing don't you think? No cutoff lines. No “fifth worst or better advances” like we have now. Just head to head competition-“winner” moves on. All the stages, stage points, bonus points and whatever else points that are given are still in play so you don't have to throw those out for those who like all that. Constant pressure-top to bottom. Doesn't matter where you are, there is no cushion. Plus it’s short, sweet and to the point-just like the target demographic likes it.
Look at the way this Playoff has developed with half the field former or defending champs and the other half clawing for their first one. In one matchup, one non-Champ (either Truex or Stenhouse) is going to the Final Four and that's pretty neat! Finally, all eight have at least one race win. That right there eliminates one big fear the Sanctioning Body has (which is still in play under their current “Playoff”) - the possibility of a winless Champion.
In closing, this article is not advocating this method for selecting a Champion. I like simplicity in the way my Champions are determined and believe they should be determined through their entire season of work. Just call me old-fashioned that way. Besides, we have a method in place that's as convoluted and contrived as this one. Change is coming though. We’ve already been warned. We won't be going back to a simple, season long Champ so they say, so why not this? It's about as good as what we have and may even be a bit more interesting. At least with all these simultaneous matchups it would give the NBC booth more to talk about than “if the race ended now…” which would be a marked improvement.
So race fans, take a look at the bracket and file it away ‘til Sunday. Then, while you are watching the broadcast and are weary from being bombarded for the 87th time how every point matters, recall this little diversion.
See if looking at things a little differently doesn't add a bit of extra interest… or maybe even bring a smile.
“Til then, let's quit calling this thing we have now a “Playoff” until we get something that actually looks and works like one.