Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Are Too Many Drivers In The Playoffs?

Through the many incarnations of the NASCAR postseason, the playoff field has gradually grown from 10 drivers to 16. Is 16 too many, or is it fine the way it is?

Champions Should Be Good, Not Good Enough

For most of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams, the initial goal each year is to make the playoffs — as it should be for anyone competing in the series full time.

The problem here is that almost half of them make it.

So why is that so bad? First off, there’s not much exclusivity to the accomplishment anymore. You can make the postseason with a rather mediocre year.

Jimmie Johnson is in the midst of the worst season of his career. He has no wins, only two top-five finishes and has led just 29 laps. Following last week’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Johnson essentially stated in his post-race comments that they are optimistic because his team ran in the top 10 late before fading to 16th at the checkered flag.

What kind of farce has this become when a seven-time champion is optimistic because he was able to keep up with the top quarter of the field and snuck into the next to last playoff spot?

He absolutely has no business being in championship contention. The playoff field should never have grown beyond 10 drivers. Even 10 seems to be a bit much, to be quite honest. No driver who has stood 10th in points after Labor Day has ever won a Cup title under the previous format. That’s because if you can’t put together a stronger “regular season,” you don’t deserve to win the title.

This all started in the mid-2000s when drivers like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and other popular racers missed the cut for the postseason. NASCAR felt as if it would affect interest if the biggest names weren’t eligible for the championship. So the playoff field kept expanding until it was a near guarantee that all of the most notable drivers would qualify.

Whether that’s the case or not, it shouldn’t matter. The championship should go to the best driver each year — or at the very least, one of the best drivers.

The championship has become the focal point of the races rather than the race itself. Constant reminders of points as they run and current playoff standings have diluted the races to a mere afterthought. Drivers are constantly bombarded with questions about the playoffs and their outlook for the postseason.

Granted, the series title is the sport’s biggest prize. But it shouldn’t make winning races irrelevant, especially late in the year.

The “win and you’re in” method of eligibility is part of the problem as well. One victory shouldn’t open the door to the sport’s number one prize. I’d like to see the playoffs shortened to the final few races and only feature the top four or five drivers. There are a couple different ways to do the eligibility criteria, but that’s another story. The point is that the current system is way too inclusive.

Since the playoffs aren’t going away, we need a way to ensure that one of the best drivers every year ends up holding the big trophy — exactly the way it should be. -Frank Velat

The More The Merrier

The 16-driver playoff field is good the way it is.

NASCAR’s postseason has already changed too much in its 15-year existence. The last thing we need is yet another change.

My first option echoes a lot of fans’ sentiment: that we should lose the playoffs and go back to a full-season points battle. But as Frank pointed outk above, the playoffs aren’t going anywhere any time soon so let’s keep what we have for at least a few more years and get a bigger sample size of it.

The idea behind the current format was that the sport would get more competitive and, eventually, we would get to a point where a driver capable of winning races and competing for championships misses the playoffs. This wasn’t the case the first few years of this format, but now it is.

Last year, we had Joey Logano, a driver who has twice made the Championship Four, miss the cut. This year, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Jamie McMurray, Chris Buescher, AJ Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne all failed to make it in — all drivers who have made it in before. Newman and McMurray both have teammates who made it in. Menard is driving a car that made it to the Round of 8 last season.

Also, this is the first season Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 24 didn’t make the playoffs since 2005. William Byron isn’t a bad driver — if it were truly an easy task to make the 16-field playoffs then he would have easily made it in. The same goes for Daniel Suarez.

People will write off many of the drivers I listed as not having a chance to win the title even if they made the playoffs, but NASCAR is a streaky sport. I didn’t think Tony Stewart had any shot at the championship in 2011 when he sucked all season and limped into the playoffs before winning five of the final 10 races. Nobody thought Brad Keselowski was a contender for this year’s title until the past two weeks.

I remember those 10-driver playoff years; they were horrendously boring. The biggest field opens up the chances for that Cinderella story, and the current elimination-style format provides drama every single playoff race.

A 10-driver elimination format wouldn’t work with 10 races. The Camping World Truck Series does eight drivers over seven races, and eliminating two drivers every three weeks is far lamer cutting four.

Anyone that loves NCAA Basketball’s March Madness, but hates this playoff format has no room to talk. March Madness lets in 68 teams now, many who weren’t even close to winning their conference, and people still love it.

NASCAR’s playoff grid isn’t that accepting. In fact, it’s more in line with other professional sports. 40 percent of the NASCAR drivers make the playoffs. The NFL lets in 37 percent of the teams, while the NBA lets in a whopping 53 percent. The NBA lets teams with losing records in. That would be like if a driver with more DNFs than top 10s made the NASCAR playoffs (which is honestly possible).

For as long as we have playoffs in NASCAR, the current format is the best one to use. Let’s not go tinkering around with it anytime soon. -Michael Massie

About the author

Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

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Bill B

Yes Virginia, there are too many drivers in the playoffs. The number should be 10 at the most. If they have to have their silly playoff rounds they could eliminate 2 drivers each round and still end up with 4 contenders at Homestead.
No way should someone that didn’t win, only had a couple of top 5s and had an average finish greater than 10th even have a chance. Also, with the way the playoff points work now the chance their given is a snowballs chance in hell.
Making the playoffs would mean a lot more if it was more exclusive. Of course we all know why NASCAR wants more teams in the playoffs. By giving fans of those bottom drivers the illusion that they have a chance of winning the championship, they hope more fans watch and get excited by the playoffs. Plus it makes more sponsors happy.


It makes the sponsors and owners of the 16 cars happy. It makes the other cars and sponsors invisible for the last ten events for the TV networks. Which is why those sponsors wonder why they do it.


Answer: there shouldn’t be any “playoffs”.

Thank you.


That is definitely the correct answer..

Bill B


Johnny Cuda



That’s been said since Brian first came up with his “brilliant” idea that the fans wanted.


“”The championship has become the focal point of the races rather than the race itself. “”

That.. You don’t sit down on Sunday afternoon to watch a “championship”…

The ‘product’ isn’t the “championship”..

Seems to me, back when it was simple, the championship was more of an afterthought,
yeah, you got bragging rights when your driver won, but it wasn’t the sole focus from
the drop of the green flag at Daytona…

The focus was the racing… Now its not even that… Seems that all you’re supposed
to care about is who crosses the finish line first.. They won’t even show you anybody
else crossing the line anymore…

This week in both the Busch and Cup race, we were
treated to a shot of the flag man immediately after the winner crossed the line. The
only lap that counts, the most important lap of the race, which should be the most exciting, and we get to stare at the flag man… That’s just awesome <– thats sarcasm.


Michael, the NCAA tournament is a lose-and-you’re-done scenario. That’s not happening in NA$CAR “playoffs”. How many games does the losing team get to play? How about if NA$CAR eliminated the last 4 cars in each event?


The entire ‘playoff’ scenario is just ridiculous. as far as I’m concerned, the season ended last weekend at Indy. Too much emphasis placed on the last 10 races, and it has watered down the entire season before the ‘everyone can play’ playoff. stupid.


So the NCAA tourney was expanded to 64 in the mid 80’s and remained that way for over 20 years. Te reason it went to 68 teams is additional conferences in D1 basketball have been created and ALL conference champions (yes issues with conference tourney versus regular season) are included. BTW your argument falls flat when those 68 teams are out of over 300 D1 programs. So that is give or take 20 some odd percent of teams that are allowed to compete versus the 40ish% NASCAR allows. The NBA issue is a complete money grab. OH wait that is ALL of them.
So provide context if your going to spout off about a gross number and then to a percentage comparison with others. It does not show well.


They should remove the stage points. They’re pointless in my eyes. Just reward the final finishing positions. That’s the point and I thought original point of a race. The first to the finish. Hell just run the full season using the Formula 1 Points System. Only the top 10 in my eyes deserve points and for the “premier” NASCAR series. Then it should have a tough and simple challenging point system. Maybe award double points for the “Crown Jewel” events ie Daytona 500, Coke 600, Southern 500 and Brickyard 400. Further emphasizing the bigger races but ultimately coming down to a full 36 race season. People can complain 10 cars scoring points is not enough but at the end of the day drivers stats usually score: Wins, Poles, Top 5s and Top 10s


If only the top ten or even 15 got points there might actually be more racing and rivalries, but with this group probably not.


Haha you got a point


The only playoff formats that would work would be resetting the top 10 drivers in Points with 5 races remaining. Drivers with playoff points will be reseeded. The first round of 4 races will determine the final 4 drivers battling for the title. So each race a driver can clinch by a win. Meaning points will not matter unless someone who didn’t clinch within the top 10 won. So the playoffs would be more exciting with 10 drivers racing for 4 spots.

Another idea is (still using the formula 1 point system idea) resetting the top 10 drivers by 5 points. The final race is the only championship playoff race. Drivers all season had to race to be within the top 10. Make the finale double points for being the championship race as well. 50 points to win and with the point spread the championship should truly be decided by only the top few drivers. This is similar to what the PGA tour is using for the Championship open at East Lake. 10 separate driver stories, rivalries and 35 races leading up to the final race to determine who was the best all year. With only 10 drivers scoring points in the race it would be a true test of a driver to perform and win. Also it protects the higher ranked racers. You need to perform at the best all season in order to get the best advantage.

Alright I’m done writing haha. That’s the only downside to NASCAR playoffs. Everyone thinks they have the best idea and at the end of the day the best way to decide a true champion is by a season long battle. Every race is just as important no matter what.


Nascar really expects people to believe that a driver who has a fluke win at Daytona is REALLY c ‘championship contender’? Please.

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