NASCAR: Approving ThorSport’s playoff request would be a disaster

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: Johnny Sauter, driver of the #13 Tenda Heal Ford, drives during practice for the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series World of Westgate Las Vegas 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 13, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: Johnny Sauter, driver of the #13 Tenda Heal Ford, drives during practice for the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series World of Westgate Las Vegas 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 13, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) /

NASCAR approving ThorSport Racing’s request to reinstate their two eliminated drivers into the playoffs would be an all-around disaster.

Two of ThorSport Racing’s three playoff drivers were eliminated from NASCAR Truck Series playoff contention following the third and final race of the round of 8 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

All three of their playoff drivers were forced to retire from this race with engine issues that struck early on. Matt Crafton, who entered this race the highest among the three drivers in the playoff picture, was the fortunate one in that he still got to advance to the round of 6. As for Grant Enfinger and Johnny Sauter, they were not as fortunate.

But ThorSport Racing are now lobbying for NASCAR to reinstate both Enfinger and Sauter into the playoffs because of the fact that Ilmor Engineering, which supplies engines for nearly every team in the Truck Series, claimed responsibility for the issues that caused this disastrous situation for the team.

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Honoring this request would be perhaps the worst mistake NASCAR could possibly make.

In discussing why ThorSport Racing sent this request to NASCAR, team general manager David Pepper stated that “we’ve been eliminated from the playoffs and it was none of our doing.”

Give me a break.

Everyone knows the playoff format, from the perks earned in the regular season to the advancement procedure of each round in the playoffs, coming into the season.

Why should NASCAR totally scrap the elimination format that everybody sets out to conquer by accruing playoff points via stage wins and race wins from when the season begins in mid-February just because one team doesn’t like the result after an elimination happens?

I get the fact that Pepper isn’t asking NASCAR to forget about the terrible finishes for the team’s drivers at Las Vegas Motor Speedway by resetting the points. He even stated, “we don’t want a reset or a reshuffle.”

I get the fact that he simply wants them to remain championship eligible. The thing is, their terrible finishes in this race, regardless of how they happened, are the reason that they are not championship eligible.

Again, why should NASCAR completely scrap the playoff format that was already in place and clearly laid out for everybody?

He then cited the EIRI (except in rare instances) rule of the Truck Series rule book, which states that “On occasion, circumstances will be presented that are either unforeseen or are otherwise extraordinary, in which strict application of the NASCAR Rules may not achieve this goal. In such rare circumstances, the NASCAR Officials, as a practical matter, may make a determination regarding the conduct of an Event, the eligibility of a Competitor, or similar matters that are not contemplated by or are inconsistent with the NASCAR Rules, in order to achieve this goal.”

Sure, mechanical errors are unforeseen. But they are an unforeseen part of racing. So are blown tires, lapped cars spinning in front of leaders, etc.

No one is guaranteeing that they’re not going to happen, and no one is going to discount their championship implications when, not if, they do.

“Strict application of the NASCAR Rules” is not intended to eliminate ramifications of mechanical failures.

Mechanical failures have happened in the past, and they have hindered drivers’ chances of playoff and championship success. To completely throw the far more specific rule that says two drivers are eliminated after the three-race round of 8 out the window because a team is upset over an issue would be absurd.

William Byron comes to mind. With nine laps remaining in the 150-lap round of 6 finale at ISM Raceway in 2016, his engine failed, costing him a spot in the Championship 4.

At this point, he had dominated the series with six victories in the first 22 races. He went on to win the season finale, but because he didn’t advance to the Championship 4, he only finished in fifth place in the championship standings.

If Enfinger and Sauter are reinstated into this year’s playoffs, Byron is the 2016 Truck Series champion — and don’t even bother arguing. Apologies to now ex-2016 champion Sauter.

Pepper also stated that the team “want to be able to control our own destiny”. Here is what he had to say, according to NBC Sports.

"“People keep bringing up that we choose to run them. Well, not exactly. That’s not entirely accurate. We are presented the NASCAR Ilmor motor and it is the motor of preference because the rules have been changed several times to impede the built motor.“You cannot be competitive and win with that built motor (from a source other than Ilmor). They’ve cut RPM. We’ve changed the gear rule. I want to make sure that everybody understands there are reasons why we are forced into running that. It’s not by coincidence that everyone ran the Ilmor but one or two trucks (at Vegas).“If we chose one and it blew up, then that is on us because we’re controlling our own destiny. We want to be able to control our own destiny. Our outcome of our season and our races should be a product of what we choose to run, not what we have to run because of just the way things are.”"

The problem with this is the fact that ThorSport Racing’s trucks weren’t the only trucks affected by the race. It’s not like Ilmor Engineering decided to screw them over. The company even cited “high engine load condition combined with the extreme weather conditions in Las Vegas” as a reason for why these failures occurred, and it was extremely hot for this race.

Nearly every team used these engines, but even if ThorSport were the only team using them, it really wouldn’t matter. Simply put, a very possible mechanical issue actually happened, like it often does across all forms of motorsport. Again, it’s part of racing.

As for the idea of them controlling their own destiny, I fully agree with Pepper. They should be able to do so.

The thing is, they did control their own destiny, and this goes along with the whole discussion about the idea that he believes that “we’ve been eliminated from the playoffs and it was none of our doing.”

Win one of the first two races of the round of 8, and you’re moving on to the round of 6 no matter what happens at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Controlling your own destiny is literally the beauty of the current playoff format.

Accrue playoff points throughout the regular season by winning stages and races, and lessen your chances of being negatively affected by a mechanical or other issue in the playoffs as it pertains to advancing to the next round.

Everyone controls their own destiny.

End of story.

Enfinger, the regular season champion, didn’t even win a regular season race! But somehow it’s fair to pin the fact that he isn’t moving on to the round of 6 solely on an engine issue?

Plus, look at the playoff picture entering the round of 8 finale. Would Enfinger and/or Sauter even have advanced to the round of 6 had things gone their way? Enfinger sat just two points above the round of 6 cut line in the sixth and final transfer spot while Sauter sat two points below it, ahead of only DGR-Crosley rookie Tyler Ankrum.

Unlike Enfinger, Sauter only got into the playoffs because he did win a race. Now he’s supposed to maintain his championship eligibility, championship eligibility he likely wasn’t going to have anyway following the round of 8 finale given his spot in the playoff picture, because of an early engine issue?

When people talk about participation trophies, the victim mentality and not accepting responsibility, this is the kind of thing they’re referring to.

Regarding Ilmor Engineering, Pepper even stated that “they made a mistake, but we shouldn’t be the victims of the mistake.”

But that’s not the worst of it.

The worst of it is the precedent it would set if NASCAR were to approve this request.

Before you know it, there are going to be 23 different Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Truck Series champions each year, and each individual race is going to have 14 different winners. Teams will be crying foul left and right, and the idea of what qualifies as being “unforeseen” is going to become the most toxic idea that has ever existed in the world of motorsport.

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Can you imagine Kyle Busch leading on the last lap at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a championship in sight and his engine blowing, only to be passed by Kevin Harvick for the title?

Can you then imagine Busch hoisting the championship trophy anyway, praising NASCAR‘s new “unforeseen clause” for stripping Harvick of the title because Busch “would have won” had it not been for the engine failure?

It sounds crazy — until it doesn’t.