The start of the the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is here. 16 drivers will take to 10 tracks separated into four rounds to stake their claim at being on top at seasons in this November in Phoenix. The playoffs in NASCAR, like they are in stick and ball sports, are nothing like the regular season.
Yes, a race win gets you to the next round, and yes points can still get you by, but like the other sports, you damn near have to be perfect to win this championship.
Since 2004, the year that the playoff format was first added to NASCAR, only three drivers have won a championship more than once — Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch. That’s it. That’s the list.
Since this new format was adopted in 2014 though, Busch is the only driver to win the Cup more than once. In fact, in this new era of NASCAR race, one could say that just getting to a Championship 4 should be a big stat like winning a championship. You should be judged on that and have a similar weight for your merits for a Final Four as you would a championship. I mean, I get it a championship should hold the most weight, but look at the NCAA Tournament, it’s all about a Final Four. We talk about that a lot. How many Final Fours have you been to?
Same for NASCAR. I mean the elite teams in the NCAA have been to Final Fours. Kentucky, UCLA, North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Indiana, Connecticut, you name it, normally it’s the elite of the elite’s. In NASCAR, it’s Kevin Harvick (5 in 6 tries), Kyle Busch (5 straight) and Martin Truex Jr. (3 straight and 4 in 5 years). They’re the elite ones in making it to the final round more times than not.
Especially more so now than ever, winning in NASCAR is just so difficult. You have to be damn near perfect. That means being flawless on pit lane (no bad stops, no penalties), being aggressive on track, having a good starting spot, etc.
Same for basketball. In the NCAA tournament, it’s grown to be you can beat anybody on any given night. You have to be flawless. You can’t turn the ball over, miss free throws, lapse on defense, etc. Those that do, they have short lives in the Big Dance.
NASCAR gives you three shots per round, but one bad race can easily slip up your title chances very quickly. Yes, Harvick and Denny Hamlin are basically shoo-ins for Phoenix, but there’s still two spots among 14 very capable drivers to take them. The points are so tight among them and you have to be perfect each week to survive and advance.
With racing being measured in a matter of tenths of a second now, you don’t have the luxury of many mulligans. While there will be upsets along the way, the big names like in the NCAA Tournament will still find their ways to the Final Round. The ones that do will do so on perfection.
So, throw out everything you’ve seen thus far. This is a whole new season with a new game now.