NASCAR: The major, underrated positive of the playoff format

Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR Cup Series (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR Cup Series (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

NASCAR has long been criticized for utilizing playoffs to determine a champion. But there is one major plus that this past weekend highlighted.

The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season marked the 20th season in which playoffs were used to determine the champion and the 10th season in which the round-by-round Championship 4 format was used.

During the 20-year stretch, just eight champions are the drivers who would have won the titles on points alone. During the 10-year stretch, just three champions are the drivers who would have won the titles on points alone.

This year’s champion, Ryan Blaney, finished in sixth place in points, while points leader William Byron placed third in the final standings.

Sure, you could argue that wins matter too much — or not enough — or that consistency matters too much — or not enough — or even that the regular season matters too much — or not enough. You could argue that the championship should be one race, a three-race round, or a full 36-race season. You could make the case for or against all of that.

But it is what it is, and everybody in NASCAR plays by the same rules.

Not so much in college football.

In NASCAR, there is no group of human beings making decisions on who they think the best drivers are like college football has. The champion is determined on the race track.

In college football, you can have whatever “criteria” you want to pick the four, but nothing takes away from the fact that there is a human element involved in the decision-making process that can’t be taken away, and every single human being has preconceived notions, biases, feelings, etc.

Any suggestion otherwise is utter nonsense, and this past weekend proved it.

NASCAR, as maligned as the playoff format is, doesn’t have that problem when it comes to the Championship 4.

Can you imagine if it did?

“William Byron won six races, but he needed a late caution to win three of them. Is he really one of the best four?”

“Kevin Harvick beat Christopher Bell at Phoenix Raceway in the spring. Head-to-head has to matter when picking the four.”

“Who would you rather face? Kyle Busch or Tyler Reddick?”

“Chase Elliott was injured, and now he’s healthy. But the No. 9 team just wasn’t the same with Josh Berry, and is Elliott really at full strength coming off an injury?”

“Kyle Larson only won four races, but look how many times he would have won if he wasn’t wrecked out. He should be one of the four.”

“Does Brad Keselowski pass the eye test?”

“Alex Bowman is missing his crew chief. Take him out of the discussion.”

“Denny Hamlin drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, and being the top driver on a team with that kind of depth should have him as one of the four.”

“Chris Buescher has three straight oval wins, but can we trust him to perform when it counts?”

“Martin Truex Jr. is in! You just can’t leave out a regular season champion!”

“Ryan Blaney was still finding his identity during the summer, so we should ignore that part of the season.”

Welcome to the College Football Playoff committee discussion room. I could go on and on.

Can you even imagine?

Yeah, I get it. Two different sports. A NASCAR Cup Series playoff selection committee will never happen.

My point is that NASCAR could be a whole lot worse, no matter how much you despise the playoff format. There is nothing inherently unfair about it.

And by the way, the NFL and NCAA football are the same sport, yet NFL doesn’t have this problem, so the “two different sports” idea doesn’t make much of a difference here anyway.

In NASCAR, there is no such thing as an “undeserving champion”. There is nothing illegitimate about it. There are no blatant double standards. Politics and personal feelings don’t determine the champion. Biases don’t determine who gets a chance and who doesn’t. Brand doesn’t get you into — or keep you out of — the final four. Decisions aren’t made based on TV ratings.

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

So the next time you want to complain about NASCAR’s playoff format, just remember that the modern college football postseason process, which was implemented the same year NASCAR introduced the Championship 4, is literally a farce.