As was we head into NASCAR Championship Weekend at Phoenix Raceway, there will be one driver missing that many feel should be there. Kevin Harvick was eliminated from the Round of 8. Kevin Harvick won nine races, had twenty Top 5’s and twenty six Top 10’s through out this season. His average finish was 7.3 according to NASCAR’s statistics. Many fans and several drivers have spoken out on the fact that with his performance this year he should have been racing for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
The Chase for the Championship and the NASCAR Playoffs have been a topic debate since they began. I’ve heard both sides to the argument in regards to how a champion is determined. The first side is that NASCAR should be treated like every sport and have playoffs to determine a champion. The other side suggests that ten races shouldn’t outweigh what you did in the first twenty six races. There is a lot of money invested in drivers, pit crews, equipment, testing and sponsors so I tend to agree with those who think more emphasis needs to be put on finishing consistently throughout the entire season.
Since 2004, NASCAR has a playoff type format where the championship winner might not have been the most consistent drive throughout the year. According to https://beyondtheflag.com/ and https://www.racing-reference.info/ These would have been the NASCAR Cup Series Champions under the old points system that counted for a full 36-Race Season.
2004- Jimmie Johnson
2005- Tony Stewart
2006- Jimmie Johnson (or Matt Kenseth)
2007- Jeff Gordon
2008- Jimmie Johnson
2009- Tony Stewart
2010- Kevin Harvick
2011- Carl Edwards
2012- Jimmie Johnson (or Brad Keselowski)
2013- Jimmie Johnson
2014- Joey Logano (or Jeff Gordon)
2015- Joey Logano (or Kevin Harvick)
2016- Kevin Harvick
2017- Martin Truex Jr.
I understand that winning needs to be rewarded, but so should finishing consistently. There are things I like from the old point system and there are things I like from the new point system. If I was making decisions for NASCAR, here is how I would award points in a season. The first thing I would do is eliminate playoff points. They are confusing and no one pays attention to them to begin with. Secondly, I would continue the trend of First Place gets forty points and so on. One thing I would bring back is that you get one point for leading a lap and five points for leading the most laps in a race. Finally, let’s talk about stage racing. I like the idea breaking the race into segments, but it should only be two. Per NASCAR rules, a race cannot be called until you’re at least at the halfway mark. If you are in the Top 10 at the halfway mark, the points should be awarded as they are now. Often times a driver might perform really well during the first half of a race but then the second half might not go as well for one reason or another. I believe it would be easier to keep track of points and make things even more competitive between the drivers.
As far as the playoffs go, I do like the sixteen team format, but with a few adjustments. At the end of the regular season, who ever wins the Regular Season Championship gets an automatic bid into the Championship Race. When it comes to who should be in the Championship Race that should change as well. If you are one of the fifteen other drivers in the playoffs and you win one of the nine races, then you get to go the Championship Race. That means if you had nine different winners then ten people would be competing for a championship. Keep in mind, whoever is racing for the championship would have had to be consistent the first twenty six races and win at least one race in the playoffs to be race for the NASCAR Championship. This would also make the competition even tighter, because if a driver won multiple races in the playoffs that would be less cars you have to contend with in the Championship Race. For example, if a driver wins three races that would be two less cars in the championship race. I think this would make the races more competitive, the driving more aggressive and drivers would not be as laid back as they are once they know they’ve clinched a spot in the final race.
I don’t believe NASCAR will ever go to these extremes and make these type of changes, but I’d more a lot more interested if consistency had the same amount of impact that winning did. In the past, there have been drivers who have only won race and finished outside the Top 10 the rest of time. That driver still made it into the playoffs. I would rather see a driver who wins no races but finishes in the Top 10 every week get a shot at a championship. There is too much money at stake with sponsors and TV contracts to not reward guys for being consistent week in and week out. Whether or not NASCAR makes any changes in future remains to be seen, but this year Kevin Harvick has made the case to why their should be changes to the path of winning a championship.