Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: What if Points Mattered in the Playoffs?

1. Let’s Not Say RFK Racing Is ‘Back’ Just Yet

In sports in general, discussion and debate about whether a team or player ‘is back’ is something of a staple.

This is extremely relevant to the NASCAR Cup Series right now in the wake of Chris Buescher winning at Richmond Raceway this Sunday (July 30). Combined with vastly improved performance from Brad Keselowski, who will almost certainly make the playoffs barring a crazy string of first-time 2023 winners over the next few weeks, it’s fair to wonder … well, if RFK Racing is back.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: Are Ford and RFK Racing Back?

The problem with answering that question is defining exactly what “back” means. If you set the bar low enough that just finding victory lane or qualifying both cars for the postseason counts, then sure, RFK is back.

But considering this was once a four-car team that won consecutive Cup Series championships, won a bunch of races and boasted perhaps the greatest non-champion driver ever (Mark Martin), that feels way too easy. I’d suspect Jack Roush would agree.

So yes, it’s good for the Cup Series that this team is improving. Certainly, Buescher winning somewhere like Richmond is worthy of praise, and the organization deserves credit for lifting itself out of its darkest days.

It’s just not back quite yet.

2. Could Less Be More for Richmond Like It Was at Pocono?

One of the more pleasant surprises of the season, at least on a personal level, was seeing Pocono Raceway packed with fans a few weeks ago. It was awesome to be there at the track and experience it pretty much full, with people everywhere from the merchandise haulers to the stands to the infield.

It especially hit home for me as a Pennsylvania resident who remembers all too well when Pocono had two, very non-distinct race weekends each year — strangely close together during the summer, which made them run together even more. Like many fans, I was initially dismayed when Pocono lost a race, but now I’m not so sure it wasn’t a blessing in disguise.

Could the same thing apply to Richmond? It was easy to tell on TV that the stands were far from full this weekend. NASCAR has hosed The Action Track in other ways, particularly by moving the races to the afternoon, so it’s not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison to Pocono. (Short track racing also continues to perplex the Next Gen car, whereas it’s improved the product at Pocono, no question.)

Still, one can’t help but think that a single night race at Richmond would pack the house, creating a sense of urgency among fans in the area to attend instead of waiting for the “other” race weekend.

It’s something NASCAR should absolutely consider for the 2024 schedule and beyond.

3. Richmond Probably Just Made a Lot of Playoff Bubble Scenarios Less Likely

Heading into Richmond, it didn’t look like a race that was going to determine much for the mad dash for the final few Cup Series playoff spots. Now? It looks like it might have been very critical indeed.

The Cup Series has seen 13 different winners so far in 2023, and 12 of them are now locked into the playoffs (thanks to one winner, Shane van Gisbergen, not being eligible for the postseason). Barring a flurry of new winners, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski are going to be safe on points.

So, too, it seems for Bubba Wallace. Not only did he come home 12th, but he finished in the top five in both of the first two stages. As big points days come, that was about as clutch as it could have been.

Without needing to rehash it here, the decision by AJ Allmendinger to race in the NASCAR Xfinity Series elsewhere and guarantee he would start at the rear of the field for the Cup Series race may prove costly — particularly since he finished 27th, one lap down. He’s certainly not out of it at 22 points behind the cut line, but the problem is there’s Ty Gibbs in-between him and Michael McDowell. Catching and passing more than one person in the standings is nearly as hard as doing it on the track.

From Daniel Suarez on down, it’s pretty much a must-win to make it in situation. That bubble definitely got a lot smaller, and for different reasons, we might look back at Richmond and say it was the place that sealed the fates of both Wallace and Allmendinger.

See also
Thinkin' Out Loud at Richmond: Ford Has Figured Out How to Win the Championship

4. The Hendrick Playoff-pocalypse Is One Week Closer

Back on July 20, my Frontstretch colleague Andrew Stoddard offered a take that touched a lot of nerves: that Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman would both miss the playoffs. Hendrick Motorsports fans didn’t hesitate to sound off on how crazy they thought that opinion was.

Guess what? Nothing has changed a week later except that Elliott and Bowman now have one less chance to win their way in. Neither driver has been mathematically eliminated, but as noted above, it’s not the gap they have to make up so much as having to pass a handful of other drivers to get above the cut line.

At least as he explained at Pocono, Bowman knows he’s lucky to even still be in the discussion. His issues, injury and a penalty to his team, aren’t his fault.

Elliott’s wounds, however, are self-inflicted. His missed races came because of an off-the-track injury while snowboarding and a suspension. Unfortunate? Yes. But the results of his decisions.

There’s really no reason that all four Hendrick cars shouldn’t be competing for the championship, but bad luck and bad choices are awfully close to dooming two of them. And if that happens, Andrew’s take won’t seem all that hot in retrospect.

5. A Compromise Playoff System Idea

Among NASCAR fans who dislike the playoffs, I’m not even in the top 90%. In fact, I don’t even consider myself a hater, and I’ve resolved myself to the idea that it’s probably not going away.

The issue with the playoff system as it currently stands is that it makes points worthless, except for some fringe cases. Winning races used to not be worth enough in determining a Cup Series champion, and now they’re actually too valuable, while points mean almost nothing.

What if there was a way to have it both ways?

Here’s the high concept: Nothing would change about the regular season. Wins still lock drivers into the playoffs, with points deciding the last few spots if needed. This is one of the things that actually works about the current system, and there’s no need to change it.

Drivers would still be seeded according to the current rules to start the playoffs. That would continue rewarding drivers who do the best during the first 26 races. Maybe even boost the reward for the regular season champion, as that feels like it should mean more.

Once the playoffs begin, however, the champion is strictly determined by points. No rounds, no automatic advancement and no elimination. Ten races, ten different tracks, hopefully with as much variety as possible. Whoever has the most points at the end of the final race is the champion.

The idea is that it would be more palatable to longtime NASCAR fans while still providing the same kind of postseason feel from other sports that the governing body craves so much. With only ten races, there would be less time to separate from the pack, and it’s easier to see a handful of drivers entering the final race with a chance to still win it all if things break their way.

Is it perfect? Of course not. And compromise isn’t something we’re really big on as a society these days.

But it’s an idea, at least, to make points matter again.

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15 Comments
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Echo

RFK hasn’t been a 4 car team since the 2011 season
, 12 years ago. It’s not back I agree. But it’s improved greatly since Brad bought in. Both cars in the chase his second year, not shabby at all.

Echo

HMS, probably right about them after watching their struggles this weekend. But you have a wild card or two left and they love to throw that caution flag late. It’s not over yet.

Echo

Points are intriguing for sure but Brian’s clone and the networks will nix your idea instantly. Question for you, Do Gibbs cars have a huge advantage because it sure looks like it.

Alex Curtis

Stop calling it the playoffs, the real title is NASCAR Hates Matt Kenseth. NASCAR was mad a northerner won the championship and vowed to never let that happen again. They have tweaked the system several times to try to manipulate who they wanted to win, such as changing the points to match Dale Jr’s performance. You may have noticed it didn’t turn out like they thought. As corrupt as NASCAR is I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of ties between the France family and the Biden crime family. But since NASCAR is made up100% of little sissy boys this will never change.

Mike

Something you writers constantly forget is that its easy to pack the stands with fans if the track cuts the seating capacity. Surely you know this but I assume you want people to drink the kool aid im sure it fits your narrative. Look at the seating capacity at daytona from 2005 to now. But im sure even a reporter could lose access to nascar if they dont report the big lie properly

Shayne

I attended the night race at Richmond in May 2006 along with 100,000+ other fans. NA$CAR probably lost 70% of their core fans thanks to the self-annointed marketing genius, BZF. Drugs are bad, mkay.

Ronald Thornton

Yeah, I had permanent seats at Charlotte in the 90’s and that was a real traffic jam. No kids in sight. No empty seats anywhere. Infield packed also. The pics at Richmond with all the empty seats is a clear sign something ain’t working

Pat S

I think thats a pretty neat idea for the Champion. While I wouldnt call it back but RFK is making their presence known and for both cars to make the playoffs and with one win so far id say they are well on their way, and should be applauded for turning the team around they way it has.

Last edited 9 months ago by Pat S
DoninAjax

What happened to only wins matter? The whole idea was to get POINTS out of the equation. NA$CAR has insured a win in the final event to determine the title holder but, like I have said from the beginning, it is impossible to take POINTS out of determining who wins the title. IF NA$CAR really cared about who wins the most events they could pay for a trophy, like the Richard Petty Award, to the driver with the most wins. But what happens if there is more than one? Maybe NA$CAR will provide each of the drivers with the trophy and prize money. Or, more likely, NA$CAR will cut the trophy into pieces and split the money. The POINT system now is sure simpler than it was before BRian’s brilliant ideas to improve the entertainment product.

DoninAjax

Didn’t Newman show everyone that POINTS can get a driver into the Final Fatal Fourway (Vince would be proud)? NA$CAR made sure he didn’t win.

Kurt Smith

Your points system suggestion is basically the same as the much-maligned (and deservedly so) original Chase format, only with drivers making the playoffs on wins rather than points.

NASCAR could have had closer battles, with deserving drivers and teams, in the final race of the season. And without perverting the points system in a manner that fans hated so much that NASCAR’s audience is less than half of what it was before King Brian’s colossally moronic idea.

It would be simple, see. Award points based on finishing position every week, and the total number of points at the end wins. Want closer finishes at the end of the season? Do away with pack races, green white checkered finishes, and double file restarts that take out good drivers constantly. Heck, you can even add stage points to this equation and it would work. As it is, it’s nearly pointless to award stage points.

I haven’t yet gotten scientific about it and looked at the numbers, but I’m willing to bet money that the margins between 1st and 2nd in pre-Chase seasons…or even 1st and 5th…would have been much smaller without restrictor plate events and their big pileups.

DoninAjax

I prefer to think of “Emperor Brian” spending too much time in his vault counting his money while NA$CAR burned.

Bill B

“Your points system suggestion is basically the same as the much-maligned (and deservedly so) original Chase format”

LOL… I thought the same thing when I read that this morning. It’s pretty obvious.

Kevin in SoCal

“With only ten races, there would be less time to separate from the pack,”

As the others said, this idea was already tried in the 2004+ Chase era, and yes, almost every time at Homestead the championship was down to only 2 drivers. I like the playoffs better than watching one driver run away with it all season, but I am growing tired of one driver at Phoenix finding the right setup and winning the race and championship easily.

DoninAjax

Driver A wins the first 17 events and finishes last in the next 18. Driver B wins events 18-35 and finishes last in all the others. Driver A wins the last event (and the title). Driver C finishes secoond in all the events. Who deserves the title?

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