Race Weekend Central

Why Does the Elimination System Work for Stick & Ball Sports but Not NASCAR?

Here we are–Monday morning after the race and we’re looking at the fallout of a wildly unpredictable Charlotte weekend.

In the XFINITY Series, there were some last second shell games attempted by Austin Dillon to squeeze his little brother above the cut off. I don’t blame Austin, as Ty entered into the Chase seeded fourth after a very strong regular season. With the Sprint Cup wild card drivers screwing with points and wins, having Ty Dillon knocked out of the Chase feels…wrong. There are factors completely beyond the points chasing competitor’s control.

Over in the Sprint Cup garage, the Bank of America 500 practically sounded the death knell for Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 as he suffered an electrical failure and withdrew after completing only 155 laps. Considering that Harvick has never been knocked out of the Chase and has had another sterling season in 2016, once again the potential ramifications of the day felt…wrong.  Harvick is looking at a must win situation to guarantee his movement past the next cut off after Talladega. Just one bad day at the office and his whole year is messed up.

Every year we face the same uncertainties and misgivings with this playoff system.  While it has certainly generated TV ratings and interest beyond the living rooms of the tried and true NASCAR fans, there are still so many aspects of it that leave a bad taste in the racing fan’s mouth.

It made me wonder why the playoff system works so well for sports like baseball.  Yes, there is elimination, but the playing field is whittled down to two teams on each tier.  They have up to seven games to sort out who is the best. There’s a sense of fair play in existence. Well then, what about football?  The NFL promotes their sudden death playoffs heavily and America just about goes into fits for most of the winter. Its popularity may have something to do with the immediate physicality of the sport. On any given Sunday a single play can take out a quarterback for the rest of the season.  The regular season already has that do-or-die mentality of the post season hype. It works.

Well, why doesn’t it sit well in racing?  Because it is a race–a test of endurance, commitment, technical wizardry and talent. While the checkered flag provides us a snapshot of excellence on race day, it never tells the entire story.  As such, a championship based on knocking out competitors due to bad luck and singular racing incidents lacks a sense of recognition of the year’s work.

There is some talk in the upper ranks of creating an award for the team who “wins” the regular racing season, before the insanity commences.  Isn’t that what we left behind when we ripped up the old points system and instituted the current method of trophy roulette?

NASCAR needs ratings. Heck, they obviously need to figure out how to get fans back into the grandstands. The Chase certainly served to satisfy the bean counters, but it has failed to grab the adoration of the competitors and those who pay for race day tickets. Do we do something about that?  Or are we looking into a future where the TV networks hire a studio audience to fill the seats while the stars are paid to act out the day’s scripted drama? What a depressing thought.

Well, off to Kansas where the weird and wild are often on the menu. I can’t wait to see what’ll happen next.


Hurricane Matthew certainly stole the headlines this past week, wreaking havoc along the coast from Florida up to North Carolina. It was heartening to see Atlanta Motor Speedway open its campgrounds free of charge to evacuees.  The hospitality included access to the campground restroom and shower facilities.



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