This weekend marks the end of the 2018 season for all three of NASCAR’s top divisions as that form of racing will head to Florida’s Homestead-Miami Speedway to contest races that will serve as the deciding events for their respective championships. The Camping World Truck Series, the Xfinity Series, and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will crown champions that will be determined by the NASCAR Playoffs method that invites a prescribed number of competitors into the field of contenders then whittles them down over the closing weeks of the season until a select group will race for the championship in the season finale.
The NASCAR Playoffs are meant to assure the sport of a made-for-TV type of “Game 7 Moment” devised by NASCAR chairman Brian France(who is currently on leave following an arrest for an alleged DUI in New York).
While some fans have embraced the method, others have criticized the playoff format saying that it determines a season-long championship with just one race. The argument of critics is that such a system cheapens the title and turns it into little more than a gimmick.
It could be pointed out that over the past two seasons Dirt Late Model racing has seen two title fights go right down to the wire without the use of a Playoff or Chase format.
In 2017, three of dirt racing’s biggest stars entered the $100,000-to-win Dirt Track World Championship in Portsmouth, OH with a chance to win the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series crown. Josh Richards, Scott Bloomquist, and Tim McCreadie came into that event with the series trophy within reach.
After a season that included more than 50 feature races there were still three drivers with a legitimate shot at the title on the last day of the season. No playoff or other manipulation required.
Richards went on to win not only the race but the championship.
In the recently concluded 2018 season another national touring series proved that tight points battles are possible without the use of a playoff. Mike Marlar, Chris Madden, and Brandon Sheppard entered the World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte for the World of Outlaws Late Model Series locked in a three-way battle that offered each the opportunity to come away from the two-day affair as the series champion.
Like its counterpart, the WoO Late Model Series does employ a playoff to assure a close battle to the end. Despite that, the three drivers mentioned made their way to Charlotte separated by only 40 points following a season highlighted by well over 40 races.
Marlar eventually walked away with the WoO crown.
Of course, there are always going to be seasons in which one driver proves to be dominant and wins the title in a given series handily. But until 2004, racing had always been a sport in which the long haul had been rewarded over the short burst of a playoff.
In the opinion of this writer, dirt racing has it right by allowing the season to play out without the manipulation of a “Chase” or “Playoff”.