If you take a look at the standings in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series you will notice that the points battle is indeed a tight one. However, that closeness has been manufactured by the use of a playoff system that reset the standings after the twenty-sixth race of the season. And while such shenanigans do assure a close fight all the way to the end of the season as drivers are eliminated periodically over the final ten events, there is nonetheless something artificial about the way NASCAR goes about the business of determining its champion.
At the same time, a look at the standings for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series reveals that there is also a close race for the series title. Only 60 points separate Tim McCreadie, Scott Bloomquist and Josh Richards with just two events remaining on the schedule. The first and second place drivers(McCreadie & Bloomquist) are just 15 markers apart at this late stage of the campaign.
The three drivers vying for the Lucas crown have gotten to this point in varying ways.
McCreadie has driven his No. 39 car into victory lane on five occasions during the 2017 Lucas tour with two of those(I-80 Speedway and Florence Speedway) paying $50,000 or more. For the most part the Watertown, NY native and driver of the car heavily supported by the Longhorn Chassis company has been quite consistent throughout the campaign piling up numerous top-5 finishes along the way.
Bloomquist began the season with a hot spring as he collected five wins prior to the month of June. However, after winning the Dirt Late Model Dream at Eldora Speedway(a non Lucas event) the Mooresburg, Tenn. legend went through a bit of slump that saw him give back much of the points lead he had amassed up to that point. The driver of the No. 0 Sweet-Bloomquist Race Car has collected three feature wins since the beginning of August and appears to be making a late push to defend his Lucas Oil season championship from a year ago.
Richards also started strong as he picked up three early wins. But the Rocket Chassis driver cooled off in the late spring. A red hot July that saw the Shinnston, WV native earn five victories thrust him into the series lead. However, Richards has again cooled a bit, which opened the door for McCreadie and Bloomquist to close in on and pass by the driver of the No. 1 machine.
So unlike the NASCAR system, no playoff format has been employed by the LOLMDS. For that reason, the championship battle just seems more real, at least to this writer. Likewise, the champion will seem a bit more deserving.
To draw a comparison, this year’s Lucas Oil contest is somewhat reminiscent of the 1992 NASCAR battle that saw eventual champ Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison and Bill Elliott enter the final race of the season at the Atlanta Motor Speedway virtually deadlocked. When all was said and done, Kulwicki earned the title by using crafty pit strategy that gained him just enough bonus points to assure himself the title. Points earned from all races held that season were used in determining the winner and no Survivor-style elimination had to be used to narrow the field down.
The 1992 championship just seemed more real than one that might be won simply because a driver who barely qualified for the playoffs got hot at the right time. In other words, there could never have been a situation in which a driver could miss several races during the year and still wind up as the title holder when the system in use required all points amassed during the season to count toward the final total.
The season ending Hooters 500 in Atlanta has to be considered one of the milestone moments in the sport of auto racing for multiple reasons. Not only did one of NASCAR’s closest championship battles play out but it is emblematic of a changing of the guard in that it was Richard Petty’s final race and Jeff Gordon’s first.
That kind of drama can’t be manufactured. It just happens.
There won’t be a close three-way battle every year, maybe not even most years. But when there is such a contest, it brings real drama along for the ride in a major way.
Granted, when this sort of system is employed there is always the possibility that a champion could be determined before the final race of the season is even contested. That happened in NASCAR back in 2003 when Matt Kenseth locked the title up prior to that season’s final event. But when that is not the case, the result seems more rightfully earned.
No matter which driver goes on to win the 2017 Lucas Oil crown, he will have done so based on his full body of work over the course of an entire season. There won’t be any fake drama or false pretenses involved. That just seems to be the way things ought to be.
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