Many people say with the way that the NASCAR format is now to crown a champion that the regular season doesn’t necessarily matter anymore. With a win in and you’re in format, you don’t necessarily have to have the top overall car throughout the 26 race regular season no longer.
So long as you get your car dialed in for when it matters in the 10 race postseason, that’s all that matters. I mean, all you have to do is win at least one race in the regular season and you’re playoff bound. Then, so long as you win a race in each round of the playoffs, you’re Championship 4 bound.
But, this year’s playoffs is showing that the regular season matters more than most other years. In fact, it’s the regular season to what is going to produce the Championship 4 now.
Alex Bowman is a prime example. He’s facing a must win situation Sunday at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway. But, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has to wonder, “what if?”
See, Bowman is arguably one of the hottest drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series heading into the penultimate race of 2020. He’s scored a pair of top five finishes in as many races run in the Round of 8 to go along with four top eight finishes in his last five starts on the season in his No. 88 Chevrolet. Overall, Bowman has eight top 10 finishes in his last 10 starts on the season if you go back to the final two races of the regular season as well.
Somehow, Bowman is 25 points below the cutline heading to the final stop of the Round of 8 still.
He only has nine playoff points accumulated through the first 34 races run is how.
“I view it like we should have run better all year and accumulated more playoff points,” Bowman said. “We’ve run third and fifth the last two weeks and only lost points or stayed about the same. So, it comes down to we needed more playoff points throughout the year. I think last week we were capable of winning and fell a little short. This week, in some different circumstances, we were capable of winning.”
Same can be said for Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch and William Byron. Blaney, has four top seven finishes in his last five starts on the season. He had two in the previous 11. He has just 14 playoff points.
Busch, won Thursday night’s race in Texas. He has six top seven finishes in the playoffs alone and the only two races he didn’t score a top seven in was at Talladega and the ROVAL.
Byron, has three top eight finishes in his last four starts including six of the last 10.
Despite that, all three of them have already been eliminated from championship contention. The reason?
Lack of playoff points.
They all struggled during the regular season. Bowman, had two top two finishes in the first five races run but only four top 10 finishes over his next 19 starts, none of which being in the top five.
Busch, went winless all regular season and only scored four playoff points.
To close the regular season, Blaney only had one top five and just four top 10’s over the final 13 races.
Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick (67 playoff points), Denny Hamlin (54 playoff points) and Brad Keselowski (35 playoff points) dominated. The trio combined to win 16 of the 26 regular season races. They looked the part of championship contenders.
But, as we head to Martinsville, they don’t look like it anymore. They’ve combined to win four of the eight playoff races but none this round.
Harvick, has just four top five finishes in his last 10 starts overall, three of which being wins. He’s not won since the Round of 16.
Hamlin, has three top fives in his last 10 starts. He has one win in his last 10 overall starts in general.
Keselowski, has two top fives in his last 13 races.
Do these guys sound like championship favorites?
That’s why getting as many playoff points in the regular season is the new deciding factor in making the final round and having a shot at a championship. Harvick is +42 right now and can easily make it to Phoenix next week. Hamlin, is +27 with Keselowski +25. So long as Bowman, Elliott, Truex or Kurt Busch don’t win Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN), the final four is set and the guys on hot streaks are all eliminated.