I’m amazed at how many race fans don’t understand who qualifies for this year’s playoffs. And the talking heads on TV aren’t helping by saying Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick are already in. Who ever coined the phrase “you win, you’re in” is incorrect.
Two races into the season no one is guaranteed to be in the playoffs. Most everyone knows 16 drivers make the playoffs. The plan is to take 16 winners. I’m not sure there are 16 drivers capable of winning. In some cases the driver may be capable of winning but I don’t believe their team is. Sure, some may luck into a gas mileage win every now and again but week in, week out it’s tough to beat those top teams with their superior pit crews.
For this piece, let’s say only 12 guys win one of the 26 races leading up to the playoffs. So, barring any trouble, Junior and Harvick will be in the playoffs. But the rules say a driver has to finish in the top 30 in points and here’s where it could get sticky – a driver has to attempt to qualify for every race (except in rare instances).
Look no further back than last year when Tony Stewart (missed 15 races) and Denny Hamlin (missed four events) were both injured and missed some races. Hamlin missed his early while Stewart’s broken leg would have kept him out of the playoffs. Hence, two weeks into the season no one is guaranteed to be in the playoffs.
No one knows if NASCAR will use that “except in rare instances” if any of the top names miss a race or two for something as simple as the flu and I wonder if there is a magic number of races a race winner can miss and still be in the playoffs? Is there a chance a driver can miss four races and still be allowed to compete in the playoffs if he has a win? For the record, even though Hamlin missed four races he was still 26th in points after those first 26 races.
OK, back to only 12 winners. If there are only 12 winners and they’re all healthy then the next four guys highest in points are in. So, yes, points are still important and to go one step further if 17 or more guys win, the tie breaker is points. So week after week there really are no guaranteed spots. I take that back, the point leader is in after that 26th race with or without a win. So if points were awarded right now Junior, being the point leader, is in.
• Those all important points – so for the first dozen so races some teams may gamble late in a race looking for a win but points may very well decide the last few spots.
Playoffs Could be a Nightmare for NASCAR
After the 2003 season, Brian France decided after 50 plus years of awarding consistency that it was no longer fun to watch, so he came up with a playoff gimmick to crown the champion.
That was 10 seasons ago. After a half-dozen or so tweaks the playoffs as we knew them were trashed and this season its 16 guys in the playoffs with three elimination rounds. Like I said, points will be a factor for a few spots to get you into the playoffs. But once the playoffs start, a driver could in fact win three races and have six terrible finishes and still be one of the final four guys with a shot at the championship heading into Homestead.
The playoffs are broken down in to three three-race segments. Win one of the first three playoff races and you move on to round two. A win in any of those next three races and you move on to the third round.
So driver X could win the first race in the playoffs and then finish 36th and 43rd. His win in this round moves him into the next round. He could then finish 29th in the fourth playoff race and 39th in fifth playoff race and then win race number six. That win moves him into the last round. He could then win the seventh race in the playoffs and he’s now one of four guys racing for the Cup Championship at Homestead. And, oh ya, let’s say he finished 37th in that eighth playoff race and 38th in ninth, it makes no difference as his win in that seventh race put in the title hunt.
Why the title, “Playoffs Could be a Nightmare for NASCAR” you ask? I’m guessing the suits in Daytona wouldn’t be sad if Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the driver hoisting the championship trophy on November 16 in Homestead. I find it interesting that he could have a great year with a pile of top 10s which back in the old days would have given him a great shot at the championship but this latest scheme may end up costing him the title.
I know 11 races don’t make a year but they have run 11 races since Dale Jr. blew an engine at Chicago in round one of last year’s playoffs. In those 11 (last nine of 2013 and the two this year) races Junior has seven top 5s and 10 top 10s, including four second place finishes. His average finish in those events is 4.8.
Cup Thoughts and Facts
Did I hear that right? The opening comments on NASCAR RaceDay were (some voice with no face on the TV), “Just one race into the new season and our sports hero already claims the top spot.” There are fans out there who think I don’t like Dale Earnhardt Jr. I’ve never said that. What I hate is that NASCAR continues to try to make it all about Junior. There are other race teams out there with fans who are not Junior fans.
Darrell Waltrip went even a step further, saying last Sunday before the race – and I quote, “Junior may be the guy that could have won that race and everyone would have been happy.” To which Chris Myers chimes in, “The competitors, the challengers” and DW jumped right back in and said, “Everybody across the board, media, fans, the drivers, everybody’s real happy he won that race.”
That may be one of the dumbest comments that has ever come out of his mouth and he’s said some really dumb stuff over the years. Even Waltrip doesn’t really think everyone was happy Earnhardt Jr. won the 500.
• Seems strange not to see Home Depot’s name every week on the side of the 20. I read Dollar General will be on the side of the car for 27 races and when Home Depot is on the car it’ll be more Husky Tools than Home Depot.
• In Junior’s first 19 Cup wins he has never won back-to-back races.
• Kevin Harvick led 224 laps at Phoenix, it was the fifth most in track history which hosted its first Cup race back in 1988. Harvick led 252 laps there in 2006. There have been 35 Cup races at Phoenix, one per season from 1988-2004 and two each season since.
Dale Earnhardt sits atop that list with 262 in 1990. Others are Jimmie Johnson 238 in 2009 and Kyle Busch 237 in 2012. All but Busch won the event, that race he finished behind Harvick and Denny Hamlin.
• Last season we were told Jack Roush was not going to be at every race and it seems strange not to have him interviewed at some point during the weekend. I wonder how many races he will attend in 2014. What’s he doing on the weekends and what does this mean to his teams going forward?
• I’ve had my fill of those clips of fans filming themselves watching their driver winning a race. It may be great to bore your family with but it has no place on TV race day. And enough of those mind numbing tweets from fans.
• Harvick missed transferring to the final segment of knockout qualifying at Phoenix by one thousandth of a second.
• The insert Fox uses to tell us who’s running where is worthless unless it tells us how many laps down a driver is. Sometimes they show that and other times they don’t.
Thinking that should read softer walls. Raise your hand if you’re sure there’s a wall at any track that hosts a Cup race that isn’t covered with a SAFER barrier? Is your hand up? Hard to believe I know, but there are still parts of walls out there that aren’t covered.
In fact, both Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick hit an unprotected wall at Daytona. How can that be in this day and age of safety concerns?
Harvick was very unhappy when talking about it. “The tracks, for the most part, don’t listen to really anything unless it’s profitable for their shareholders. So, when you see somebody spending $400 million dollars on their track and they don’t have soft walls around the inside, maybe they could spend $403 million to go ahead and finish the inside of the superspeedway there at Daytona. Yeah, I was sore all week. And, just today (Saturday, March 1) feel good enough to do what I need to do. So, it was just a weird situation. The car didn’t have any brakes or any steering and the throttle was partially hung coming off the wall and going through the wet grass and then into no SAFER barrier at the end of pit road there. So, it was a hard shot. It’s a little bit frustrating because it really shouldn’t even be a debate. I know they have data that shows where the most frequently hit spots are but we wear all this safety equipment and do all the things that we do to these race tracks for that one freak incident to keep things from happening like happened back in 2001. So, it’s shouldn’t even be a debate. It’s just one of those things I guess that you just wait around for something else to happen and then they’ll fix it.”
Sorry last week my two typing fingers weren’t hitting the keys my brain thought they were. Talking about Daytona 500 winners I wrote Bobby Allison won the race four times with three different teams including 1998. That should have said 1988.
I also said Cale Yarborough won it in ’98 and ’97 when it should have said ’68 and ’77.
Happy Birthday Hardluck
Harold “Hardluck” Hanaford had a birthday last Sunday, March 2. Sorry I’m late but Happy, Belated Birthday, Harold.
If you’d like to send him a birthday shout his e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m sure he’d enjoy a card at 859 River Road, Plymouth NH 03264.
Riverside Speedway Will Celebrate Its 50th Season in 2014
Staff members are working on updating forms and rules for all divisions and sponsors are being signed up. Things are starting to progress nicely.
A major change for the 2014 season will be the combination of the Angels and Street Stocks divisions. Track promoter Dan Fournier said, “We made their rules the same last season and let them race together by choice. Now it just makes sense to combine the two divisions and have a great field of cars,”
Opening weekend is a car show on May 24. The show will be followed by an open practice. Then on May 25 the season starts with the first annual Flood Bowl 250 Enduro. “Lets start the season off with some fun,” added Fournier.
Forms and rules were mailed out recently but if you didn’t receive one, they will be available on www.riversidespeedwaynh.com soon. Questions can be sent to email@example.com. Riverside also has a Facebook page.
Until Next Week
Find something or someone who makes you laugh every day.