CONCORD, North Carolina — This is the new NASCAR. I say it every year. No longer is this sport what your grandpa or even your dad for that matter grew up on. This is a new age. Cutting edge. More similar to stick-and-ball sports than anything they had pre-2004.
That’s the new playoff era and why they’ve gravitated in this direction now. See, Formula One is a prime example of why this is a good thing for this sport. It’s early October and they still have over a month-in-a-half left of their season. However, their championship is already set. Max Verstappen won the title already.
NASCAR used to have that occur at times. The title was long wrapped up by time we got to Atlanta to wrap up the season. In order to add a level of importance to the entire season, NASCAR created a playoff format to keep more drivers alive for a title in the Fall months. With the NFL growing every year in terms of popularity, if they didn’t adapt, they’d be long forgotten about by time we hit September too.
One could say this move kept NASCAR in the limelight and will grant them a raise on their next TV negotiations that are set to begin in 2025. The Fall schedule is as important as ever before and TV networks see this. They can get 2-3 million folks to watch on Sunday’s in the Fall that go head-to-head with the NFL. While FOX and CBS don’t need NASCAR in the Fall, other networks do.
By doing so, it’s also added an importance of the regular season because as we’ve seen this year, in order to make the postseason, it’s likely going to take a win. I mean if Kurt Busch doesn’t pull himself out of the playoffs due to a concussion which still has him sidelined, then all 16 playoff drivers this year would have had at least 1 win.
However, I can also say that once you do win, the regular season isn’t as important either. Just look at the paths of the 8 drivers still left fighting for this year’s championship. They all had a rocky road to this point.
Chase Briscoe went 14 weeks without a top 10. He had 1 top 10 in his final 18 races of the regular season. William Byron also had 1 top 10 and 0 top 5’s in his final 18 regular season races too. Both are still alive heading to Las Vegas for a championship.
Ross Chastain entered the playoffs with 6 straight finishes of 18th or worse.
Coming into the end of July, Joey Logano had 2 top 5 finishes in a 12-race span prior and just 3 top 10’s in that stretch. Heck, even now he only has 2 top 10’s in the last 7 including 4 of his last 5 finishes being 17th or worse.
Denny Hamlin had 1 top 10 finish in the first 12 races of the year. That top 10 was a win however. He had 3 top 10’s in the first 16 races run at that.
Christopher Bell had 6 finishes of 20th or worse in the first 10 races. He then entered the playoffs with 5 of his last 9 regular season finishes being 14th or worse.
It’s all about positioning yourself to get to the playoffs and then once you’re there, maximizing your efforts in the rounds that you’re good in and surviving the ones that you’re necessarily not.
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