Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Should NASCAR Playoff Drivers Be Raced Differently Than the Rest of the Field?

Drivers participating in NASCAR’s playoffs are frustrated by drivers who are outside that realm. It’s been a common theme since the postseason began. Last weekend (Oct. 17) at Texas Motor Speedway, an incident between Denny Hamlin and Chase Briscoe has grabbed headlines and even spilled over on social media this week.

This is the 17th season NASCAR has had playoffs and there still seems to be some disagreement from everyone about what the etiquette is. So we decided to put it up for debate.

Should drivers who are in the playoffs be raced differently than drivers who are outside the playoffs? Clayton Caldwell and Joy Tomlinson discuss.

Yes, There Needs to Be Some Level of Respect

We see it all the time in racing. A car gets on the inside of another car and loses control, creating a wreck. This past weekend, it happened when Bubba Wallace lost control of his No. 23 Toyota and spun in the middle of the field, taking out multiple cars. No playoff drivers were involved in the crash — unless you count minor contact for Kyle Busch — but that was by luck. An accident like this is very common.

If you want to point out an incident when playoff drivers were involved, look no further than a couple weeks back at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Joey Hand, making his Cup Series debut, went and slid into Martin Truex Jr., a playoff driver, ruining what could have been a decent day for Truex. Truex advanced to the Round of 8 but now finds himself in a big hole, thanks in large part to the spin created by Hand.

It also happened in a much more important event, but in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Back in 2017, Brennan Poole was racing for position with Cole Custer early in a race. Poole was five points to the good entering Phoenix Raceway and a good day would have given him an opportunity to race for the championship at Homestead.

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Custer and Poole approached the lapped car of Caesar Bacarella, who was making his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut. Bacarella was all over the racetrack and Custer and Poole split his No. 8 Chevrolet, putting Bacarella in the middle. Contact was made between Poole and Bacarella, cutting down the tire on Poole’s No. 48 Chevrolet and sending it into the outside wall, ending his day and his championship dreams. Bacarella finished 10 laps down in 30th position.

These are just two incidents where drivers should not have been racing as hard around playoff drivers. They should have been more careful around those guys and not get in their way. This is not rocket science; it is simply drivers using their heads and understanding that there are times to push it and times to not push it.

For Hand and Bacarella, those were situations where they probably should have used more caution and backed off the leaders. Their inexperience in those cases got the best of them. There is a level of respect that needs to be paid to the playoff drivers. Even though I used Hand and Bacarella as examples, they are not alone. This has occurred more than twice.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. This does not mean that drivers should move out of the way and let someone pass. If someone is racing a driver cleanly and is fighting for position, then so be it. Let it happen. That’s racing! However, pulling a desperation move and splitting a playoff driver three-wide on a restart is not acceptable. That is when better judgement should be used.

Also, there are times when a playoff drive may approach a slower car on the track. That driver should use their head and see the big picture. Don’t be racing someone hard battling for a championship when you are significantly slower. Let them go and battle the next non-playoff driver.

This week there was an incident between Hamlin and Briscoe that has gotten attention. Briscoe, who is out of the playoffs, was racing Hamlin, who is in the playoffs, for the seventh position on Sunday before wrecking, thanks in large part to Hamlin forcing Briscoe up the racetrack and into the outside wall.

Hamlin has been the most consistent driver on the circuit this season. He is trying to win the championship for the first time in his decorated career. The circumstances surrounding the incident between Hamlin and Briscoe are still up in the air, as only those two know what led up to Briscoe eventually hitting the wall.

However, from what was seen on television, Briscoe didn’t cross that line. That’s the important element to this. There is a fine line between racing someone hard and being stupid. Stupid is being daring and putting other drivers at risk. Racing someone hard for the seventh position, is something different.

You should certainly race drivers differently depending on whether or not they are racing for a championship. That makes perfect sense. Let’s just not get crazy about it. – Clayton Caldwell

No, Everyone Should Be Raced the Same!

Playoff drivers should not be raced differently in the postseason, at least not more than they normally do. Everyone has a right to be on the racetrack and if the non-playoff contender’s car is faster than one who is vying for the championship, that driver should be able to pass them, whether it’s by side-drafting them or a little bit of bump-and-run.

Of course, the non-playoff drivers should expect the same treatment from the championship contenders. Everyone is fighting for positions on the track; the only difference is one is battling for a NASCAR Cup, Xfinity or Camping World Truck series title.

The most recent and prominent spat was between Hamlin and Briscoe at Texas Motor Speedway. Briscoe looked to the outside of Hamlin while exiting turn 4 and slid up into the wall. His tire cut down soon after as a result of the contact. Now, Hamlin may not have left him much room coming off the corner, but Briscoe didn’t lift either. Sometimes those are the risks that rookies take as they grow as a racer; occasionally certain moves pay off, like last year with Cole Custer, but it didn’t for the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

It’s also true that drivers never forget certain incidents. Hamlin probably had the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in the back of his mind, as he mentioned it both on the radio and on Instagram in a reply to Briscoe’s comment.

“Perhaps when you learn give and take you will start to finish better,” Hamlin added.

Briscoe, though, was quick to defend his on-track decisions.

“I get paid to race,” Briscoe wrote. “Just because you guys are racing in the playoffs doesn’t mean I’m just gonna wave you by. One of the best cars we’ve had all year and I was trying to take advantage of it. I understand you guys are racing for a championship which is awesome for you guys but I’m racing for a job and results let me keep that job.”

Hamlin responded with one more comment, part of which noted Briscoe “had 25 races to get a chance to race for the post season [sic]. Respect is a underrated trait in today’s world it appears.”

Did Hamlin forget that his own 23XI Racing driver, Bubba Wallace, won at Talladega Superspeedway, spoiling things for the playoff drivers?

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And that’s great! They’re allowed to race for the win or top-10 positions as much as anyone else. This isn’t like other sports leagues that pit teams against each other in the postseason. On the contrary, 30 cars are on the track at the same time, though not all are capable of winning at most courses.

Another altercation at Texas happened between Daniel Suarez and Martin Truex Jr., though Truex seemed less angry in his interview with NBC. Suarez was on the bottom and the pair came together at Truex’s left-rear quarter panel. Truex overcorrected and slammed into the outside wall, ending his day.

“I feel so bad for him,” Suarez said after the race. “I feel like I ruined the race for him, but he just can’t be doing that. I’m racing as well here. I have a lot of respect for the guys in the playoffs. But one thing is respect, another is taking advantage of the situation. He wasn’t even close to being clear and I don’t know why he did that. We’re in the last 10 to 12 laps of the race; I’ve got tires and he doesn’t have tires. I don’t know, I think he’s just got to be a little smarter.”

It’s a little bit different outlook than what Briscoe had but he makes a good point. He’s racing as well and has every right to race his way into the top 10 if his equipment is strong enough.

Besides, we’ve already seen six non-playoff drivers win races, including three at Talladega. This allows for good points battles in the final races, especially in the Xfinity and Truck series. More drivers fighting for every point they can get means better racing, and I’m all for it. Get your popcorn ready, it should be a good fight to the finish. – Joy Tomlinson

About the author

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

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Here’s a solution, get rid of the stupid playoff system!

Playoffs or not, you can’t have some drivers racing some drivers one way, and racing other drivers a different way.

Kevin in SoCal

So you think under the previous system drivers didn’t race the 1 or 2 guys going for the championship differently? Take off your rose-colored glasses.

John Dawg Chapman

As long as cars pay the same entry fees, & have owners who pay them to race for the best finishes they can get, & sponsors who pay for exposure. Then each car is entitled to race as hard as they safely can. Even the best sometimes cross that line from time to time. To single out a non playoff driver when it happens to them is unfair. the Harvick, Elliott, dustup is a case in point. Don’t forget, Harvick started it when he took Elliott out of contention for the win, by getting into him & cutting his tire down. I don’t fault Elliott for retaliating like he did. But suppose he wasn’t also a playoff driver, a large number of fans & media people would have been calling for his head.

Bill B

It’s a shame that this is one of the unintended consequence of the playoff system. I feel that everyone should race the same way they always race regardless of the playoffs but human nature is that no one wants to be “that guy” that ended someones championship hopes (Harvick excluded of course). So, yeah, everyone should race the same but that’s not going to happen. The same thing happened during the season long format it just wasn’t as obvious. There were only a couple of guys non-contenders had to be careful around and that didn’t start happening until the last few races when it was apparent who the contenders were.

Kevin in SoCal

Thank you Bill, for saying what gbvette and wildcatsfan2016 missed.

This happened during the old point system too.


no, what Nascar needs to do it ditch the stupid playoff system.


Then what would the clowns in the booth focus on all season? Imagine a broadcast without the who’s in now or the POINTS as they run?


If a driver wins with the bumper he (and his fans) better not complain when he loses with the bumper.


Oh the playoffs !!! Step right up and place your bets. A wonderful game of chance. Fun for all. NASCAR would never manipulate a race or allow teams to manipulate a race. Never happens.

Step on up and spin the wheel. We have gimmicks, free passes, cautions when you need them.Thanks NASCAR.

Stay tuned,next weekend, month,year things are gonna be better than ever. Just ask the creative writers, they know.


As a general rule no. Your job as a racecar driver is to get the best finish you can for your car owner and sponsors. Period.

Now mappers have no business fighting any car on the lead lap and should hold their line and let the lapping car decide how he’d like to overtake. By the same token leaders should be smart and not try to race a flapper on fresh tires.

Also if you’re fighting for lucky dog position all bets are off.


Briscoe said it best. He was running what, 7th ! His team expects him to race to win and for sure his sponsors expect the same. My dream scenario for this weekend is that Harvick and Hamlin take each other out on say the third lap. And no other cars are involved.

Bill B

That would be cool, but I’d settle for anyone taking Hamlin out.

Carl D.

Or we can just wait for the inevitable self-inflicted choke.

Kevin in SoCal

All three of you are brutal. LOL

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