Different path for a NASCAR championship now

Kevin Harvick won nine times during the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. Chase Briscoe won nine times in the NASCAR Xfinity Series season. Neither took home their respective championship. See, in this new era of NASCAR, it’s supposed to be more about winning. But, how are the ones that are winning the most not winning titles?

Well, it’s a complicated answer but the blueprint to winning a championship in NASCAR is evolving now over the years.

You no longer have a seasons worth of points to base a champion off of. The “Chase” was adopted in 2004. They’ve tweaked this playoff format over the years with this recent one moving closer to stick and ball sports than ever before.

In 2014, they introduced the win and advance format. Win a race in the regular season and remain in the top 30 in points and you’re playoff eligible. Win a race in each round and you automatically move on to the next.

Yes, points can get you to a championship round, but you’re going to have to win at some point. Then, you have the championship race that offers no points for the Championship 4 drivers. The first driver to cross the finish line first in that race wins the title. Simple.

So, 35 races are run one way with the final another. That’s why winning a championship now is nothing compared to the way that Petty or Earnhardt did it.

But, how can you win so much but now win the title when it matters?

Well, that’s where the championship path comes in. Just twice in this era has the driver who has won the most races during the overall season taken home the title as well. That 2-for-7. Also, the eventual champion won exactly five races in five of those seven years as well.

The common theme among them too is that they started off slow during the regular season but heated up as we got closer to the postseason.

Chase Elliott had one win in the first 22 races last year. He has four over the final 14.

Joey Logano had one win in the first 32 races of his championship winning season in 2018. He had two in the final four.

Martin Truex Jr. had eight wins in 2017 but just two of them came in the first 17 races run.

Jimmie Johnson had five wins in 2016. Only two of those wins came though in the first 29 races of that season.

Kevin Harvick had five wins in 2014 but just one in the first 30 events to the year.

The only exception to this is Kyle Busch who had four wins in the first 14 races of 2019 but none until the season finale en route to his second championship. He also came out hot after his injury in 2015 en route to his other title.

The moral of this is, get enough playoff points via stage wins in the regular season but work on your race car as the year goes on so it’s superb when it matters most in the postseason. All of these champions had similar paths which was slow out of the gates each season but hot in the end.

While I get this could irk some old school NASCAR fans, a common misconception now is that the most dominating driver always won the title in the past. That’s statistically not true actually.

In the era before this one (2004-2013), only four times in the 10 year span did the driver with the most wins actually win the championship. Between 1991-2003 (13 years) it only happened four times then too and all were by Jeff Gordon (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001).

That’s four times in 13 years before the playoff era started. Then, during this playoff era, it’s only happened six times in 17 years.

It’s more similar than you think.

The key though is staying the course and ensuring you don’t get too down in the dumps early if things aren’t going your way. You need to be good in the end after all.

In turn, we get championship parity. Since this format started, only Kyle Busch has won multiple championships over the course of the seven years of its existence. With Jimmie Johnson retiring, he’s the only won with multiple titles in the sport now.

Johnson is gone. So is Earnhardt. So is Gordon. So is Stewart. We have no Petty’s Yarborough’s, Allison’s, etc. This is a new era where no one has more than two career championships left.

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