The Race for the Winless Champion
As we go into this week’s race at Charlotte’s new ROVAL everyone is speculating on who will be the first four Chasers to be eliminated from the 2018 Playoff. It’s an interesting discussion as expert after expert are all weighing each of the sixteen competitors’ chances to advance to the next round.
For me, a more interesting watch is the race to be the first winless Champion. One of the unique things about the method NASCAR uses to crown its Champion is, it’s possible for a Chaser to win the whole shooting match without ever winning a race. It’s a long shot. Ryan Newman would have been our first winless champion in 2014 had Kevin Harvick finished third to Newman’s second place finish at Homestead instead of winning.
It was that close. I’m sure the Daytona marketing machine was in full pucker mode that day, praying Harvick could hang on so they wouldn’t have to spin how their Chase/Playoff/Whatever had crowned the rightful driver as Champ.
A Winless Champ is a sight I hope to one day see.
Like Newman, winless Chasers can advance by being fifth worst in points (or better) at the end of each round. They can then win the Championship without winning the final race at Homestead by finishing ahead of the other three who are in contention. A second place is as good as a win as long as no remaining Chasers finish ahead of you.
The probability of this happening has shrunk since the introduction of Stage racing and all the related points associated with that methodology. Stage points, playoff points, points for this and points for that, it’s just gotten a lot more complicated. But a winless Champion is still possible and that’s what I find intriguing.
Going Into the first Playoff Elimination Race at the Charlotte ROVAL this weekend, we find six of the sixteen Chasers still in contention for the first Winless Cup Champion. Let’s take a quick look at each and their chances to advance to the next round winless.
16. Denny Hamlin (-29 pts) I never thought I’d see Denny Hamlin at this point of the season, winless, but here he is facing elimination from the Chase... unless he wins this weekend... which would keep him Chasing but end his quest to be the first Winless Champion. I think we can count Denny out.
14. Jimmie Johnson (-6 pts) Over the years, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have overcome lots of obstacles in winning their seven Cup Championships. I think they will advance to Round Two on points but they’ll have to have a lot stronger finishes than we’ve seen so far. Being fifth worst to continue will get more difficult in subsequent rounds... will the Dynamic Duo be up to the challenge?
12. Ryan Blaney (+4 pts) Ryan Blaney sits on the bubble so his future hangs on this finish. If no one behind him wins or finishes ahead of him he advances as fifth worst. Of course the more Chasers he can put behind him the better but maintaining position will allow him to advance in the Winless Championship.
11. Alex Bowman (+5 pts). Alex is a single point on the right side of the bubble. Can he stay there and advance while maintaining his winless status? He’ll have 1853 left and right turns to determine that on Sunday.
7. Kyle Larson (+17 pts). Kyle will advance. He has a nice cushion and has been running strong all season... but a win has somehow just eluded him. That elusiveness has kept him in contention to be our Winless Champion, but that will end soon when he finds Victory Lane.
6. Aric Almirola (+23 pts) Aric is our leader in the Race to The Winless Cup Champion. If he doesn’t win on Sunday, he should be the Chaser with the best chance to take home the MENCS Trophy as his only trophy on his shelf for 2018.
Will we have a Winless Champion this year? As we say around these parts, it’s a long shot with a limb in the way. But it’s still a possibility... and an interesting possibility at that. One that I’ll be anxiously watching on Sunday to see how many of the six above can advance to the next round in their quest.
Hopefully, one can make it to Homestead. Then we can revisit the Playoffs and their validity and we’ll be reminded just why this is the best way to crown a Champ.