What About the Other Race ~ Win, You’re In?
Sunday marks the end of the 2019 Cup Regular season. After 400 miles at Indy, the Playoff field will be set. Sixteen will advance to compete for this season’s Championship.
Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex, Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman and Darlington winner, Eric Jones have all qualified by meeting the three part qualifying criteria-at least one race win, attempted to qualify for all regular season races and met the minimum points position. For Cup you must be in the Top 30.
Justin Haley is also a 2019 race winner. He has a win, a Big One-the Daytona Coke Zero Sugar 400. Unfortunately, he came up a little short on the other two criteria, so he’s on the outside looking in.
So much for “Win, You’re In”.
Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, William Byron and Aric Almirola don’t have wins this year but “point raced” their way in. By Darlington, they had earned enough points to clinch their position in the Playoff. Even Kurt Busch clinched the Regular Season one race early.
I thought this System was to minimize points racing and produce Game Seven moments. What happened?
So here we are-one race left. Sixteen available slots. Fourteen are occupied. Who will get the final two this weekend and race on for another three weeks of relevance?
To hear all the talking heads this week, the battle for those two slots is being waged by Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez who currently occupy points positions 15 and 16, Ryan Newman who is tied in points with Suarez, (but Daniel owns the tie-breaker) and Jimmie Johnson are on the outside trying to claw their way in.
So far, the talk is not about who is going to win what was once one of the biggest races on the circuit, but “Outrunning the Bear”. The position battle between these four is shaping up to be the story line. It’s not about who is racing for the win. So don’t be surprised if you turn on your TV and you see these four getting considerable air time and endless “If the Race Ended Now” graphics flashed up whenever one of these four pass or get passed by a competitor.
I can almost hear the booth screaming now.
What is sadder and what is not being said is that the battle to make the 2019 Playoff is not limited to these four drivers. Truth is it’s much broader and involves far more drivers than are being discussed as fourteen more drivers are still in the hunt for a Playoff spot. Drivers including -
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.,
Bubba Wallace, Jr.,
How is that possible? All they have to do is WIN THE RACE at Indy!
Each have qualified for all regular season races and are in the Top 30 in points-two of the three criteria to qualify for the Playoffs. All one of these fourteen need to do is WIN THE RACE and they’re in the Playoffs, just like Kyle Busch or Eric Jones.
Wouldn’t that be neat?
Unlike the foursome of Bowyer, Suarez, Newman and Johnson who everyone is focused on their points racing against each other for 15th and 16th, these fourteen have one clear purpose-WIN THE RACE.
For them, Stage wins don’t matter now. Stage points don’t matter now. Points racing doesn’t matter now. Outrunning a single car doesn’t matter now. The only thing that matters for these unmentioned contenders is they have to WIN THE RACE.
Pure. Simple. Racing the way racing was meant to be.
I expect these fourteen to pull out all the stops, use every trick they can get away with and try some they may not get away with. They will take chances on the track and in the pits. They may even tear up a car or two in practice pushing things to the limit. This is their Game Seven moment, their chance to throw a Hail Mary or pull out the racing equivalent of a Flea Flicker or Statue of Liberty.
Unfortunately, it’s going totally unnoticed, being totally ignored. Why? Is it because they have no chance to win?
Austin Dillon has two big wins under his belt-Daytona and Charlotte. His car owner has won here before. Is it time to add a third Big Win to his collection?
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has a couple of wins himself. It’s been a while since he has seen Victory Lane so he’s plenty hungry.
Don’t forget David Ragan. He’s sitting at 30th but he’s won two as well. They were restrictor plate races mind you, but aren’t they all restrictor plate races now?
Chris Buescher got a win, on another flat track. His was on the three-turn Pocono track. If he figures out the fourth turn at Indy could he take the win?
Paul Menard has a win also. Right here at Indy. Coming off a top 10 at Darlington could this be his chance to put the Wood Brothers in the Playoffs?
Michael McDowell showed strong at the beginning of the season. Is now the time for his resurgence?
Finally, what about the recent fan favorite, Matt DiBenedetto? A near miss at Bristol. Solid run last week at Darlington. Top 10 finishes in five out of the last ten races. He’s knocking on the door. All the other Toyota’s are in the Playoffs, so he’s in the right car. There would be no better story this season than if he were to win Indy and take the #95 to the Playoffs. Could it happen? I, along with a few more fans would like to see it.
So, these and the other, all but ignored drivers still have a chance. There is still a race to be run. Still a race to be won. So why isn’t anyone talking about it?
Why isn’t a Steve Phelps or Steve O’Donnell touting these “Wild Cards”, these fourteen unsung underdogs who still have a puncher’s chance to make the Playoffs? It escapes me.
The “Win, You’re In” component is one thing that made NASCAR’s Chase/Playoff different than other sports’ Playoffs. It kept the playoff possibilities alive until the final regular season race for all those in the Top 30. That’s nearly the entire field. The Playoffs provided a chance, hope, all the way up to the final regular season race.
That’s different. That’s unique. That’s also totally being ignored by the very ones who should be singing the Playoff’s praises.
Are the Sanctioning Body and the Media so sold on, so beholden to Stages, Stage Racing, Stage Points and Stage Wins that all things Stages has displaced the Race and Race wins? From where this fan sits it sure has that look about it. That’s a shame.
For these fourteen drivers, their hopes for the season are riding on one thing and one thing alone Sunday-WIN THE RACE. Isn’t that really what our racing should be about?