I have been sitting on this one for a while and have been trying to wrap my brain around it — and it still doesn’t make a lick of sense.
I have come around to the Chase in the Sprint Cup Series. It has taken me 12 years and has changed several times in its history, but it has proven to be a good (ish) thing for the series.
But why in the world do we need a Chase in the Xfinity and Truck series?
In case you missed it, NASCAR has implemented a playoff for those two series.
In the Xfinity Series, there are 12 drivers now racing for the championship. There are two elimination rounds – four drivers eliminated after three races, four more after the next three and four drivers racing for a championship at Homestead in November. Elliott Sadler punched his ticket for the second round when he won last Saturday at Kentucky.
That leaves 11 drivers fighting for eight spots at Dover and Charlotte: Daniel Suarez, Brendan Gaughan, Ryan Reed, Darrell Wallace Jr., Justin Allgaier, Brennan Poole, Blake Koch, Erik Jones, Ryan Sieg, Brandon Jones and Ty Dillon.
Good list of drivers there? Let’s look at the stats. The 12 drivers who can win a championship in the Xfinity Series have eight wins. That stinks, but a deeper dive leaves a worst impression. Those wins were by three drivers: Sadler, Erik Jones and Suarez. So three of 12 guys racing for the championship have won eight of 27 races in 2016. That means guys not racing for points have won 19 of 27 races.
We will come back to that.
Koch, nice guy, I’m sure, has three top 10s in 27 races and no top fives. Sieg has two top 10s and one top five. And they have a chance to win the championship. Brandon Jones has 11 top 10s and no top fives. Those stats do not a champion make.
Part of the problem is this: 12 drivers make the playoffs. Only 19 drivers have started all 27 races. So you have 63 percent of the drivers who have started every race in this series making the playoffs. That would be like 20 of the 32 NFL teams making the playoffs or 19 MLB teams. Sound right to you? It sure doesn’t to me.
The picture is much better in the truck series. Their Chase started with eight, will be cut to six after three races, then to four after the next three and those four will race for a championship at Homestead. The 2016 truck Chase field includes William Byron, Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek, Timothy Peters, Johnny Sauter, Ben Kennedy and Daniel Hemric.
Of that crowd, there are 13 wins in 17 races. Kyle Busch (two), Brett Moffitt and Kyle Larson won the other four. It is worth noting that Busch only has four truck series starts in 2016. Six of those wins are by Byron, who won the first Chase race at New Hampshire. Only Hemric and Peters don’t have wins. That is a much better picture than the Xfinity. But here is the ugly part: only 15 drivers have started every race in the series. Not as bad as the Xfinity Series, but that is still a 53-percent clip making the Chase in the trucks. All told, 93 drivers have made races in the truck series in 2016.
The bottom line is these two series do not support a Chase format. With so many drivers coming down from Cup to run in them, there are not enough wins to go around (even though the truck series regulars have had a good showing this year) and too few full-time teams. Basically, if you show up every week, you have a better than a 50/50 chance to make the Chase. That sounds like high school football in North Carolina. And in this first round – especially in the Xfinity Series – you are going to see some of those No. 1 seed versus the No. 16 seed games.
While those games may make a little bit of money, they aren’t ones people want to go see.
Andy Cagle writes a weekly column during the NASCAR season. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.