This is exactly what NASCAR created the playoffs for in 2004. After Matt Kenseth won a championship after just a one win 2003, they scrapped a seasons worth of points and created a playoff like format.
This system has been tweaked a few times, but the most recent one in 2014 is the way we’re operating now. This is to create situations like these very moments like we saw in Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway.
I think everyone just assumed that Kevin Harvick would easily make his way to the Championship 4 in 2020. He had seven wins in the regular season and two wins in the first round for nine wins in the first 29 races. He had also accumulated 69 playoff points in the process to carry with him. With how the Round of 8 on was setup, the championship was his to lose.
He has been great on 1.5-mile tracks and Kansas-Texas were the first two races in the third round. Harvick, had won the last three Texas playoff races at that. Phoenix, a track that he’s won nine times at over the course of his career, was the championship race now.
He should win his second title right?
Instead, we were all wrong. In a typical 2020 moment, Harvick was eliminated from championship contention on Sunday at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway.
Game 7 moments, remember.
Harvick, entered Sunday’s Xfinity 500 42 points above the cutline. But, as I warned earlier this week, he wasn’t necessarily safe despite that advantage still. See, he had 17 points on Brad Keselowski for the last wildcard spot to the final round at Phoenix. But, Keselowski had nine straight top 10 finishes at Martinsville including eight of those in the top five.
Denny Hamlin was one spot ahead with three top five finishes in his last four Martinsville starts himself.
Harvick, had just two top five finishes in his last 16 starts on the Virginia paperclip. What happens if Harvick struggled and Hamlin and Keselowski scored a ton of stage points and earned top fives again?
Well, that’s what happened.
“For sure with the way that we’ve run here in the past,” Harvick said on if this was possible. “Everybody kept battling there. I tried to run into the door of the 18 as a last-ditch effort there and spun him out. Sorry to put him in the middle of trying to gain a point, but not a great three weeks. It didn’t go our way. We fought for everything we had and it just came up short.”
Hamlin, won the first stage and scored 18 stage points on Sunday. Keselowski, had 12 stage points. Harvick, scored none.
Then, if someone below the cutline wins, that could put Harvick behind Hamlin and Keselowski and now out of championship hopes.
That’s exactly what happened too.
Chase Elliott won, putting him from 25 points down entering the weekend, to Championship 4 bound. Keselowski, overcame a pit road speeding penalty to finish fourth. Hamlin, faded to 11th, but just enough to best Harvick for the final spot.
“I won six races in 2014, didn’t make the Championship four – most of anybody the entire year,” Keselowski said. “I’ll tell you, it stings. I feel for Kevin because I’ve been there.
“The format is what the format is. It’s not our job to decide the format. It’s our job to race the format.”
Harvick, was one point out on the final lap and tried to put his bumper to Kyle Busch on the final corner, but wrecked them both. Championship hopes over.
“It was just a move I had to try knowing that I needed one point,” Harvick said on the final lap contact. “I needed to hit him square in the door, but at that point I was too late and wound up hitting him in the back. It was just a Hail Mary that didn’t work out.”
It was miraculous he was even there. Harvick, cut a left rear tire on Lap 180 when he had contact with Matt Kenseth. He had to pit and was 31st, two laps down after.
Luckily, a caution came out four laps later to get him a lap back. But, every time after he’d be in position to get that lap back, someone would just get lapped and get the free pass instead.
Then, while in the free pass position, James Davison stalled. Harvick, got his lap back with 101 to go. It just was too little too late.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver finished second in the first race this round at Kansas, got into the wall while leading at Texas and now just 17th in Martinsville.
That spells defeat, even for a driver of Harvick’s caliber. It ends a streak of four straight Championship 4 appearances for him and five in six tries prior to this year.
With seven wins and the clear cut dominate car all season, by him not making the final round sent shockwaves throughout the sport.
“They wanted a Game 7 moment but my only issue is you can’t ignore the first eight innings,” Hamlin said about Harvick not making it.
If we went on the format of 2003 and prior or even 2004-2013, Harvick wins a championship every time. Instead, the best he can do now is fifth in this format.
“This system is skewed toward entertainment,” said a disappointed Harvick.
He’s not wrong. This format is very difficult to win.
“Winning a championship today isn’t how Earnhardt or Petty did it,” Harvick told me before the playoffs even started. “I think it’s a much different style of winning a championship than what it used to be.
“When you look at the points standings from this year, you see why the playoffs were put into effect in trying to make sure that we had an intriguing 10 weeks of racing as we went toward the en dof the year.
“It’s very difficult to get yourself to the last race of the season and be one of those four cars and trying to be able to race for let alone win a championship.
“It’s very difficult to put yourself in that position.”
He was prophetic back in September.
“We won nine races, had a great year, and, like I said, the championship is kind of a bonus. It would be great to win it, obviously, but I’d rather go through the year and win races and do the things that we did and just came up short.”