Martinsville Speedway is a home track for me. While I’m located in North Carolina, it’s the closest track to me and I go twice a year to each race. Not being there this year hurt, but the truth is I don’t know how I would’ve kept up with every storyline going on in person. The points were constantly shifting and the only man that remained in the top four in points all day was Joey Logano on his lone win.
We came into the round of 8 with the delusion in our heads that there were only two spots truly available, with Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin being all but locks for the championship race in Pheonix. Combined these guys have won 16 of the 36 races this year, how were they going to lose all that cushion?
The NASCAR playoff format is nothing to play with. When this system was implemented in 2014, this was the type of moment that NASCAR was hoping for. The last 10 laps of that race were mind-numbingly stressful for Harvick and Hamlin fans with both of them one spot away from being eliminated from the playoffs.
In the end, the regular-season champion was eliminated and Harvick will now watch from 5th in the standings as Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and race winner Chase Elliott will all fight for the 2020 championship.
So, with this inconceivable turn of events comes a plethora of controversy. The biggest of them coming from the more than likely team interference of Joe Gibbs Racing. With a little more than 10 to go, Denny Hamlin began to drop like a rock. He fell all the way to the front bumper of his teammate Erik Jones. For the remainder of the race, it sure did seem like Jones was holding back and allowing Hamlin to keep his position on the track.
While this was going on, Harvick came to Hamlin’s other teammate of Kyle Busch who Kevin couldn’t get by. Once this happened, the points separating Harvick from Hamlin were one point with Harvick holding the tiebreaker. Jones refusing to go by Hamlin and Busch refusing to let Harvick go by is what saved Hamlin from elimination.
This then turned into a last-ditch effort by Harvick to gain that last spot by attempting to wreck Kyle Busch.
My opinions on these events:
Now, JGR is claiming that there were no team orders and that if Jones was lifting and not attempting to pass Hamlin, it was of his own accord. But, they believe that Hamlins will to not lose that spot is what really happened. I don’t believe that personally, but in the end, I also don’t care. It’s all fair in my book.
This is why we have teammates in racing. Teams helping one another out has been a thing since the beginning of multicar teams. If NASCAR wants to get rid of it, they’ll have to limit each owner to just a single car. We know that isn’t going to happen.
This is not egregious team interference like spinning out to bring a caution as Clint Bowyer did to help his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. make the chase back in 2013. This was a teammate cutting another teammate some slack. The fact is, if Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, or Cole Custer were in front of Harvick on that last lap, they would’ve given that position to him. Unfortunately for Harvick, that was not what fate had decided.
The issue is with team racing, and unfortunately, it’s just the way it is and it will never change. I’ve heard a lot of people giving Erik Jones some heat on him refusing to pass Hamlin because he’s been let go from JGR after this season. My argument to that would be that Jones still has to prove that he’s a team player.
By cutting his teammate some slack, this leaves a good taste in the JGR teams mouth and looks good to other multicar teams. I would assume Jones has aspirations beyond Richard Petty Motorsports and maybe by being a team player he will earn a great recommendation by coach Gibbs in the future. You never want to burn bridges.
As far as Kevin Harvick’s hail mary spin out. I can respect the move because it was his only option. I don’t know if it would’ve worked out for him had he been able to get by Busch since NASCAR might’ve had something to say for intentionally wrecking another competitor. However, if you’re not going to penalize a driver for not passing someone intentionally, I don’t think you can for someone spinning a car out intentionally. But, it’s a grey area.
Should NASCAR rework the Playoffs?
The yearly debate of whether the playoffs are good or bad is of course being brought up again. I’m going to be blunt, the playoffs are exciting and while the best driver does not always win, this is how it is in every other major sport. NASCAR made this format to mimic other sports, and they are now getting the same results as other sports.
As a fan, I enjoyed every bit of it. I completely understand Harvick fans being upset, but he literally had three races to get himself in the best position to move on. He didn’t do it and he paid the price.
NASCAR cannot keep changing the format every time something doesn’t go the way a portion of the fanbase wants it. Every other sport has upset wins in the playoffs, and playoff chokes like Kevin Harvick had last night. Ask Giannis Antenekoumpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Or the 2007 New England Patriots. Or the 4 finals appearances that LeBron lost when he was favored.
We have a format that is exciting and produces a worthy champion, so we have no reason to change it. Say what you will, but all four of the drivers heading to Pheonix are championship-caliber drivers and did what they had to do to get there, Harvick’s team did not.
I’ve seen a few people claim that we should make it so that the regular-season champion gets automatically set into the championship 4 or we get a champ 5. I think that is a horrible idea. It completely takes away the point of having the playoffs. We don’t send the best NBA team straight to the finals, we don’t send the best NFL team straight to the super bowl, so why would we do it in NASCAR?
Give him a paycheck and send them into the playoffs to fight for their life.
We are still fresh into this new format and eventually fans will adapt and accept it as the new way of NASCAR. I think that Harvick said it best last night, you don’t win these championships like Petty and Earnhardt did anymore. To be honest, winning a championship now is much harder.
Winning a championship in the playoffs to me is the equivalent of winning two in the old points system, because it reshuffles the deck constantly and makes you have to be good when it counts most. This system is not producing lucky teams, it’s producing the teams that rose to the occasion.
I think if any change should be made, it’s that the tracks should be shuffled every year. Some drivers are better at other tracks, it’s just how it is. If we change up what tracks are in each round and of course the championship track every year then it allows for a little more parity.