Since NASCAR entered the playoff format in 2004, its famous tagline has been “Win and You’re In”. In other words, any driver who won one of the first 26 races of the regular season is guaranteed a spot in the postseason of 10 races, or the playoffs.
But after what we’ve seen in the first three races of this year’s play-offs, I think a major adjustment has to be made.
For the first time since the playoffs began nearly 20 years ago, none of the winners were in all three races of the first-round playoff qualifiers. In other words, none of the 16 drivers who qualified for the playoffs made it to the victory lane in Darlington, Kansas or Saturday night’s 16th round final at Bristol Motor Speedway.
A big part of that reason is the Next Generation car, which promised – and certainly delivered – incredible parity that gave us what NASCAR promised: Every driver and every team has a chance on any given day to get a certain race to win.
So, as we watched Saturday night’s race in Bristol weaken, and we saw previous champions Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick eliminated for the Round of 12 – also known as the second round of three races – as well as both Richard Childress Racing drivers “Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon are also being cut off from moving on, a thought occurred to me.
Granted, this year’s playoffs and how they’ve developed so far can simply be an aberration, but what if they aren’t? What if the play-offs go ahead, with the winners in the Round of 12 again remaining non-play-off qualifiers in one, two or all three races?
What if NASCAR leaves the sixth race at Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval and no playoff qualifier STILL won a race?
Then I got an idea – quite a phenomenal idea, if I do say so myself.
This can get complicated, so please bear with me.
Let’s say we have the same kind of evolution in next year’s playoffs? What if the best of NASCAR’s best still exist? surpassed at the checkered flag by drivers who did not finish among the top 16 drivers after the first 26 regular season races?
And going one step further, what if the non-playoff qualifiers continue to win many races in the playoffs?
Shouldn’t those drivers – even if they didn’t earn one of the 16 coveted playoff spots – also get some sort of reward or notoriety for their performance in the playoffs?
I mean, what if Erik Jones (Darlington), Bubba Wallace (Kansas) or Chris Buescher (Bristol) all get extra wins in the remaining seven races? Shouldn’t they get some sort of credit for what they’ve done in the playoffs?
Even worse for NASCAR, what if? EACH of the remaining seven races are also won by a non-playoff qualifier? What if the championship is ultimately decided by the qualifier who had the best overall consistency in the playoffs – but never made it to the victory lane because the non-qualifiers were better when it came to capturing the checkered flag?
Which brings me back to my point: drivers who didn’t qualify for the playoffs but ended up taking wins in the playoffs should get some sort of exposure, even if it would go completely against NASCAR’s round of 16 system. , 12, 8 and championship 4.
Then it hit me.
It wouldn’t be that hard — nor would it be a statistical nightmare — for NASCAR to chart how all of the non-playoff qualifiers fare across the 10 playoff races, provided they win at least one race.
Then take the overall average of how they did in those 10 races and whoever finishes with the highest average automatically earns, say, a guaranteed 17e– place the finish as the highest finishing non-playoff qualifier in the playoffs (no matter how high they finish mathematically).
But sweeten it up too with, say, a $250,000 bonus to the winning driver and team as an incentive for their hard work and effort (and perhaps to showcase the so-called best of the best).
And if the best finishing non-playoff qualifier wins more than once in the playoffs, you might increase their win bonus to $500,000, maybe $1 million if they win as many as four or more races in the playoffs.
For too many years, teams that for one reason or another failed to make the playoffs had little or nothing when it came to incentives during the playoffs. Far too often, many of those non-playoff teams ended up going demoralized by the moves in those last 10 races.
I mean, who really wants to brag that they’re done with say 17e or 18e or 19e or worse in the playoffs because they never qualified to start with?
But even if you don’t qualify for the playoffs, but maybe win two or more races once you’re in the playoffs and the guys who really DID to make the playoffs, that would go a long way to get a lot of media coverage that would impress your fans, sponsors and team owners.
Oh well, maybe NASCAR would go so far as to eventually develop a system that would boot guys who made it to the playoffs if they performed so horribly once they were in the elimination races, and instead give the unqualified a “second.” chance”. ” to regain some dignity and honor and end a season on a good note.
I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t agree with that?
Follow Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski