Did You Notice? … Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick have the sport’s new playoff points format to thank for their inclusion in this weekend’s Championship 4?
Both men, after spectacular regular seasons underachieved during much of the postseason. Depending on how Homestead works out, Truex could be the first driver since Tony Stewart in 2005 to win the championship without a postseason victory. Harvick’s lone victory in Texas, meanwhile has an asterisk after NASCAR found an illegal spoiler that cost him 40 points in the standings.
Harvick, in particular, has had an inconsistent postseason filled with pit road mistakes. His average finish through the last nine races is 12.4, well below his season average of 9.0 heading into Homestead-Miami Speedway’s season finale.
But both men are simply lucky to be here. NASCAR’s new format of playoff points, introduced in 2017 includes bonuses earned throughout the regular season. These carry over into future rounds the way previous formats never did.
Let’s take a look at how this playoff would have worked out with the old point system bonus. In case you forgot, as recently as 2016 the 16 playoff drivers had their points reset to 2000. The only bonus given for round one would be three points for each win during the regular season.
Redoing the points this way, here’s the 12 drivers who would have advanced after the Charlotte ROVAL…
2018 Points After Round of 16 – Old System (+3 For Win, No Playoff Points)
Martin Truex Jr. 2145
Kevin Harvick 2112
Kurt Busch 2109
Ryan Blaney 2104*
Joey Logano 2104
Chase Elliott 2103
Alex Bowman 2099
Brad Keselowski 2098*
Kyle Busch 2097*
Jimmie Johnson 2097
Aric Almirola 2096
Clint Bowyer 2095
Kyle Larson 2092
Austin Dillon 2069
Denny Hamlin 2053
Erik Jones 2044
*- Victory during round (driver automatically advances)
Here, there wouldn’t have been much of a difference. The bonus points for Harvick and Truex weren’t really needed in a round where two drivers in particular (Hamlin and Jones) stumbled right out of the gate. The only notable change is that Johnson’s last-lap spin at the Charlotte ROVAL wouldn’t have mattered in the final outcome. He’d still have snuck in over Larson’s video-game move on that final lap by a comfortable five points.
Why the change? Larson never won a full race during the regular season but earned a handful of stage wins along the way. That credit for being the best during parts of a race gave him the edge over Johnson when it mattered.
Where the current playoff point system really changed the outcome over the old was in the Round of 12. Remember, under the old system (2016 and earlier) everyone started this round with the same amount of points. So Truex and Harvick would have been limited at 3000, the same number as a winless Johnson and Alex Bowman.
Here’s how the points would have worked out under that system.
2018 Points After Round of 12 – Old System (NO Playoff Points)
Joey Logano 3147
Kevin Harvick 3122
Aric Almirola 3118*
Chase Elliott 3106*
Kyle Busch 3104
Kurt Busch 3100
Clint Bowyer 3099
Ryan Blaney 3095
Martin Truex Jr. 3078
Brad Keselowski 3071
Jimmie Johnson 3051
Alex Bowman 3045
*- Victory during round (driver automatically advances)
Here’s where it gets interesting. Truex’s poor performance during the Round of 12, in which he fought through a myriad of issues would come back to bite him. An average finish of just 14.3 during the round, including a 23rd at Talladega and limited stage points wouldn’t be enough. Truex would earn just 10 stage points during this three-race stretch.
But that’s where the regular season bonuses come in. Truex being able to carry over his playoff points, including four wins, a plethora of stage bonuses and his top-three finish in the regular season standings proved critical. In reality, the battle between Truex, Bowyer and Blaney wasn’t even close down the stretch at Kansas; the No. 78 team was comfortably in control of their own destiny. That wouldn’t have been the case as recently as 2016.
So without the playoff points, we’ve already shown Truex would be out heading into the Round of 8. Let’s see how this round would have gone without any playoff bonuses. Remember, under the old system all drivers were reset to the same amount (4000) and no playoff points were earned to help them in the standings.
2018 Points After Round of 8 – Old System (NO Playoff Points)
Kyle Busch 4127*
Joey Logano 4105*
Kurt Busch 4097
Aric Almirola 4096 (wins tiebreaker)
Chase Elliott 4096
Kevin Harvick 4088
Ryan Blaney 4066
Clint Bowyer 4039
*- Victory during round (driver automatically advances)
Look at how the cheating scandal following Harvick’s Texas win would have cost him. He goes from being inside the Championship 4, like he is now, to eight points behind the final cut. Instead, his position goes to Aric Almirola from Stewart-Haas Racing who makes it on a tiebreaker (fourth at Phoenix over sixth as a best run for Elliott this round). SHR teammate Kurt Busch would join him at Homestead-Miami Speedway, running for a second championship.
Of course, there are a lot of caveats to making these types of comparison. Drivers will always race differently under different formats and circumstances. More pressure on Truex at Kansas, for example, may have caused him to run harder at the finish, gain positions or even a victory.
Most importantly, removing playoff points from the equation doesn’t remove stage points earned during the race. Those have made a difference throughout the year in allowing drivers with bad days to minimize the damage and keep their position in the championship standings secure.
I also don’t think anyone will argue Truex, Busch and Harvick overall have been the best three drivers over the course of the regular season. The trio is 1-2-3 in wins, top-five finishes, laps led and lead-lap finishes. Logano, the fourth driver eligible for this year’s title, slips in between them with average finish (third, 10.9) and ranks fourth in laps led.
You can make a valid argument for Brad Keselowski in Logano’s spot. Either way, there’s a strong case to be made this quartet is the best group in the sport right now to be battling for a title. The difference here is that this group wasn’t the strongest throughout the entire postseason. Not by a longshot.
Chase Elliott won two races and sits fifth in the overall standings right now. Almirola won once, at Talladega, and his average finish of 8.55 during the postseason is closer to championship caliber. Kurt Busch led 167 laps and was in position to win at least two races.
But at the end of the day, the Big Three stayed on top because of the sport’s new, built-in protections for them. Their regular season success is what kept them afloat atop of all the playoff drama. For fans who have been critical of the sport’s postseason format, that should rebuild confidence the best drivers all year won’t get knocked out. And if they do? It will take a Herculean performance deserving of the title considering the hill that underdog had to climb.
Perhaps the only point up for debate now is one I’ve argued in the past: is the NASCAR postseason too long? A playoff that runs over a quarter of the season ended with the four best drivers making it to Homestead anyway. If there are built in protections for them, that limits the drama somewhat heading to the final race. One less round (seven races) and 12 drivers just seems like a much better fit.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….
- Is Justin Allgaier the new Elliott Sadler of NASCAR’s XFINITY Series? His five wins this year rank second best but they weren’t enough for the Championship 4 after a dismal playoff performance. It’s the second straight disappointment for Allgaier, who has seven wins total the last two years driving for JR Motorsports but zero titles. At 32 years old, it feels like another Cup Series opportunity has passed him by so the quest for an XFINITY championship at JRM could be his future. Honestly? I think that’s great for the sport. It’s important for that series to have a veteran face, competing for wins every season with the younger crowd. Think of how drivers like David Green helped fill that role for the series in the past.
- With Furniture Row Racing closing down NASCAR should look to the Camping World Truck Series for lessons on how to impose financial constraints. The spec engine has worked wonders in bringing new teams to the table to stay this year. While there have been a small handful of start-and-parks, mostly second trucks for underfunded teams every race has a been a full field this year. The 2019 lineup, too looks solid as Sheldon Creed announced a full schedule with GMS Racing this week. A spec engine won’t work for Cup, obviously, but there needs to be a way for FRRs of the future to not only stay in business but compete at a high level.
- Speaking of FRR, my championship pick this weekend is Truex. He may have had the weakest postseason of the four playoff contenders but he’s running for a team shutting down at race’s end. That “nothing to lose” mentality should drive the reigning champion in his bid to join an exclusive club of drivers with back-to-back titles.
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.
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Actually, I think the playoff points are doing their job. I don’t think being “hot” for 10 races at the end of the season should overshadow someone that was “hot” for the first 26 races. While it may be true that “But both men are simply lucky to be here.”, better for luck to aid those that ran best for the majority of the season than those who happened to get lucky at the end. While I am not fond of the stages and their associated cautions (get rid of the mandatory caution and it would be fine), they do work to make sure that those who ran well, lead a lot of laps, and had good finishes to boot, will be heavily favored in the final crapshoot playoffs. Anything that increases the probability of a worthy champion based on a 36 race season is OK by me. Remember that most of the playoff contenders wouldn’t have had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the championship without a major points reset/gift.
One of many flaws in this method of deciding a championship is that if New England and Seattle are playing in the Super Bowl (how American, like World Series) there are no other teams on the field at the same time.
Good point. I will watch an NFL game this weekend to count the number of teams that are on the same field in the same game. From what you imply, there must be a dozen or more teams on the same field at the same time in regular season NFL or MLB games, and the number of teams concurrently playing each other on the same field dwindles from many during the regular season to only two teams for the Super Bowl or for the World Series. From what you imply, the regular season games in MLB and NFL cannot have only two teams playing each other, since by the time of the Super Bowl, or World Series, only two teams play each other.
During the regular season, the NFL and MLB play games between only two teams, and that does not change for playoffs in either the NFL or MLB. During the regular season, Nascar has races involving three dozen (or so) vehicles, and that does not change for the playoffs. I am not sure why this is a flaw for Nascar, but not a flaw for MLB or the NFL, as Nascar, NFL, and MLB each conducts post-season events with the same number of participants as their respective regular season events.
Come on, you can’t be that obtuse. What he is implying is that since only two teams go head to head in the NFL, MLB and other stick and ball sports, forcing a playoff format in NASCAR is asinine because there are 40 teams on the track. If the super bowl is between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Cleveland Browns, neither team has to worry about someone from the Green Bay Packers effecting the outcome of the duel. In NASCAR there are 36 players on the field that have no ability to win the championship but can ruin one of those that is eligible. That is a flaw. In order to mitigate that flaw and make the playoff truly a match between those that are eligible (like all stick and ball sports) there should only be 4 cars on the track.
I would not argue if one advocates changing the rules and composition of Nascar post-season races, but I do not understand one citing the NFL or MLB as a reason to change the Nascar post-season rules; comparing Nascar to the NFL in this instance is like comparing apples to aardvarks.
You are right, as I am slow to understand why it is ok for a competitor, with no chance of winning, can influence a regular season race (Clint indicated he potentially kept Aric from winning two events this year, one of which was in the regular season), but it is not ok for something similar to happen in the playoffs – if such is wrong in the playoffs, then it should also be wrong in the regular season, but apparently advocates think only the post-season rules should change. Some insist rules and number of competitors have to change for Nascar playoffs with the reason often cited being the NFL and MLB, even though the rules and number of competitors do not change for NFL or MLB playoff games, compared to their regular season games.
The championship PGA tournament had 30, or so, participants. Should the PGA be like the NFL and MLB, and have only two participants, rather than 30, in the championship event?
Apparently limiting the field to 4 drivers will eliminate retribution; Logano, then, should have nothing to fear from Martin.
Yes, comparing Nascar to the NFL in this instance is like comparing apples to aardvarks, so why did NASCAR try force a playoff format modeled after the stick and ball sports to determine their champion if they are so different?
And yes, because of the randomness and “messiness” of having 40 teams competing at once during the entire season where a back marker can cost a legitimate contender a good finish, that is why a format based on all 36 races is better than force playoff format. Those encounters have a better chance of averaging out over 36 races than 10 races. As an example, could you envision flipping a coin ten times and having it come up heads every time? How about having it come up heads 36 times? (much harder to envision isn’t it). Over 36 races one or two bad finishes due to a back marker taking a front runner out will have much less chance of ruining a driver’s chance of being champion if they ran well the other 34 races.
Admittedly, I have no clue how golf works because I have no interest in watching it, so I can’t comment on that.
OMG! MORE points and MORE scenarios about POINTS. I am sick of hearing about points when all I want to do is enjoy a race…and see ALL the cars and ALL the teams competing. I assume that’s why they are still on the track with the Favored few? I gave up half way thru the races this weekend because I got so tired of being drubbed non stop about points. Didn’t Nascar say they invented this monstrosity to avoid having driver points race? Don’t think it’s working out quite the that way.
“But both men are simply lucky to be here.”
I would agree that the #4 and #78 were lucky to benefit by the timely (or untimely, depending upon one’s perspective) misfortunes of other teams.
But any team benefiting by having multiple stage wins is the result more of effort during the regular season and the playoff rounds, and less a matter of luck. The significance of stage wins was known before the season began.
And now for something completely different.
Earlier this week, I saw, or read, where Dale Jarrett, I think, indicated Jeff Burton apparently had a contribution to the stage point/playoff point system. It would be nice to read who, why, and what in regards to the current stage point system. Regardless if one hates, loves, or is indifferent to the current points system, knowing the history would be informative.
If I recall correctly, when they announced this new format via a press conference, they indicated that there were many that had input in determining the new format. From TV both Burton (NBC) and Gordon (FOX), drivers Hamlin, Keselowski, and at least one other (Johnson or Earnhardt maybe), a couple of team owners (can’t remember who), a couple of track owners and, of course, NASCAR management. There were like 20 people on stage answering questions at the press conference,,, sort of like making sure fans knew that everyone’s fingerprints were on the murder weapon and that all parties with a stake were involved in the final decision.
Here is the press conference. I was wrong about a couple of things,,, it was to announce the changes associated with stage racing and there were only about a dozen people on stage….
I tried posting a link to the press conference but for some reason it didn’t show up (maybe Frontstretch doesn’t like comments with links to other places). If you want to see the press conference and who was there do the following Google search….
NASCAR press conference announcing stage racing 2017
The date was actually Jan 23, 2017
It’s comforting to know that because the Latford system was too complicated for the fans they instituted a simpler version that has morphed into this really “simple” system.
To Bill B (since a reply to your post is not provided as an option):
As I previously said, I would not argue if one advocates changing the rules and composition of Nascar post-season races. I do not justify the Nascar playoff system, but I do not understand why someone uses the NFL or MLB to criticize the Nascar system; there are plenty of reasons to despise the Nascar system without resorting to the Super Bowl as an example for Nascar to change; comparing Nascar to a Super Bowl usually does not make sense.
Even without knowing how golf works (the PGA and the PGA playoff system are a total mystery to me, as is the Champions League, but i digress), it is safe to say the play of any one golfer does not usually directly affect the score of another golfer (as an example, within the past month, a ball hit by player B struck a ball of player A, and the balls of players A and B both then went into a water hazard; player B was penalized for hitting into the water, while player A just placed a ball in its original location without penalty); in Nascar, by comparison, any driver could potentially eliminate the race, or championship leader, from the race or championship.
“but I do not understand why someone uses the NFL or MLB to criticize the Nascar system”…
because that’s what Brian France has strived for from the beginning with the chase and playoff formats,”Game 7 moments”.
Where do game 7 moments occur?
In stick and ball sport playoffs. Mystery solved as to why people keep comparing.