The Other Untold Story ~ The Race for the Winless Cup Champion
Last week, we covered one largely ignored story line - What About the Other Race - Win, You’re In. In it, we pointed out that although the racing media was totally focused on the four drivers point racing for the final two spots in the Chase/Playoffs/Eliminations, there were fourteen other drivers who were eligible to make the Playoffs. One of those ignored could make it in if they won the Brickyard.
Bubba Wallace was one of the fourteen and was a Kevin Harvick-Joey Logano restart tangle away from doing just that-winning the race and punching his ticket into the run for the Championship. NBCSN totally ignored his drive to the front as their focus was back on their storyline four. If Bubba had of pulled that off, heads of the broadcast crew would have exploded from his disruption to their predetermined story. Larry Mac would have had to FaceTime in to screamingly ask his signature “Where did he come from?”
That would have been fun to see. We came really close to that becoming a reality.
But that was last week. Here we are. Race 27. Las Vegas. The first race of the 10 race Chase/Playoff/Eliminations or whatever name the process to crown the 2019 Cup Champion goes by now. The field of sixteen Chasers has been set. Let the Chase/Playoffs/Eliminations begin!
Now for the next untold story - The Chase for the Winless Champion!
A winless champion is one of those things no one talks about. Many don’t think it’s even possible. Wasn’t this system supposed to prevent that from ever happening? Matt Kenseth nearly did it under the old Latford points system. Wasn’t it that fear that brought all this Chase/Playoffs/Eliminations nonsense about? Wasn’t it-the PR fear of a winless champion?
Here is a little secret... it’s still possible and on paper is quite simple. To become a winless Cup Champion all a winless Chase qualifier has to do is
1) Finish the season with no wins,
2) Be the fifth worst in points or better after each elimination round and
3) Be the top Chaser finisher at Homestead.
There has not been a winless champion... yet. Ryan Newman almost did it 2014. If Kevin Harvick had finished third instead of first, and a non-Chaser won the race, second place Ryan Newman would have been a winless Cup Champion.
It was that close.
So, who is in the running for the Chase for the 2019 Winless Cup Champion? Here is a list of those who are eligible going into this week’s race, along with their reset points total-
Ryan Blaney (2004),
William Byron (2001),
Aric Almirola (2001),
Clint Bowyer (2000)
Ryan Newman (2000)
The top four were contenders for the 2018 Winless Champion. Blaney and Almirola were eliminated by winning races in the Playoffs. Larson and Byron were eliminated by not being the fifth worse or better in points after an Elimination Race. Bowyer had two wins going into the 2018 Chase so wasn’t eligible for the 2018 Winless Champ and Newman was not in the top sixteen in points and did not make the Chase.
So, who has the best chance of being the first Winless Champion?
At first glance, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney are in the best position because they are fifth worst or better in points at this point. If they maintain or improve their points position, they should advance to the second round. Unfortunately, those two probably have the best shot at being eliminated by winning a race in the Playoffs.
William Byron and Aric Almirola will have to improve their points position to keep from getting eliminated in the first round. At this point in the season, I’m not sure they have enough to get out of the hole. Clint Bowyer... I would love to see him advance to the next round and keep his Championship drive alive, but there is just something that says that for them to stay in the Playoff they will need a win, which eliminates him from the Winless Champion Race.
That leaves Ryan Newman. Newman squeaked into the Playoffs and is tied for last in points, a position no Chaser wants to be in. But since he has experience at advancing without winning from the 2014 Chase/Playoffs/Eliminations or whatever they called it back then, when he nearly won the whole shooting match without ever visiting Victory Lane, I have to make him this season’s favorite to be the first Winless Champion.
When they roll off to take the green on Sunday and start the 2019 Playoffs, keep these six drivers and their race within the race in mind. You’ll have to keep them in your mind, because chances are very good if you are watching television you won’t even see them on the track. TV’s focus will be on the other end of the spectrum-the Kyle Busch’s, Kevin Harvick’s and such-the multi-race winners, the current points leaders and not on this race within a race no one wants to talk about.
That’s OK. As long as the possibility remains; as long as one of these six are still eligible to be the first Winless Champion, the Sanctioning Body has to be mindful of the reality and will have to be prepared to tell us how a Winless Champion is deserving and be prepared to defend that the method they have devised is the best way to determine the Cup Champion.
Would you be happy with a Winless Champion? We have ten races to determine it will become a reality this year.
(Editor’s Note: No apologies. This article was sent to me late on Friday with no mention of time sensitivity. We don’t run articles on the weekends, and there was already one ahead of it. I do my best, but I put down my magic wand somewhere and can’t find it now. There are still 9 more races after Las Vegas, so this one still has integrity.)