Followers of inventory automotive racing possible spent Sunday like they usually would: watching NASCAR. It was a 400-mile race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in southern Florida. Throughout it, followers stood up, they sat down. They yelled, they went silent. They contemplated some strikes and praised others. They skilled each emotion however boredom.
As of late, it is like that each weekend.
There are few uninteresting moments in fashionable NASCAR, as a result of the game is designed to keep away from them. Former NASCAR CEO Brian France spent years speaking about how he needed his sport to have extra “Sport 7” moments, and in 2014, NASCAR overhauled its top-level Cup Collection to function a playoff format meant to create these moments.
With the playoffs, 16 drivers qualify for a 10-race postseason. (The remainder of the drivers are nonetheless on observe, simply now not racing for the title.) There are three “rounds” of three races, and after every spherical, 4 drivers get eradicated. The factors then reset for the brand new spherical, and everybody begins from scratch. If you happen to scrape by in a single spherical, you get new life within the subsequent. If in case you have a nasty spherical and find yourself on the skin, you are accomplished. If you happen to win a race in any spherical, you mechanically advance to the subsequent. The playoffs culminate in a single race for the championship, the place factors now not matter and the very best finisher that day wins the title.
At first, it was a massively unpopular concept. The system was sophisticated for newcomers, the foundations felt like manufactured drama and the champion felt like one of the best driver from sooner or later, not the entire season. Sport 7 buzzer-beaters are particular as a result of they don’t seem to be assured, not as a result of the foundations pressured them.
It has been nearly 10 years for the reason that playoffs started, although, and followers watching Sunday’s race have been certainly in awe.
Homestead is the second of three races within the Spherical of 8, that means we have eradicated all however eight drivers in championship competition. After the subsequent race at Martinsville Speedway, a half-mile brief observe in Virginia, 4 of these drivers can be eradicated. The others will go into the Championship 4 finale with one shot on the title.
Coming into Homestead, 2021 Cup champion Kyle Larson had already superior to the Championship 4 with a win. William Byron, Denny Hamlin, and 2017 champion Martin Truex Jr. have been above the “lower line” that marks who’s tentatively in place to make the subsequent spherical, whereas Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney and Chris Buescher have been under it.
Homestead is a observe identified for ripping the fence. The quickest drivers are sometimes inches off the skin wall, balancing the will for velocity with the information that if they seem to be a hair out of line, they threat every thing. The race is 267 laps of hoping your ambition would not destroy you.
Buescher struggled all day, tanking himself within the factors. Truex, who was first in factors on the finish of the common season, parked his automotive with a mechanical subject late within the race. Hamlin’s automotive slammed into the wall with about 30 laps to go, proper after he handed Blaney for third. Hamlin stated one thing broke with the steering, and Blaney, who did not like how Hamlin raced him earlier than the wreck, referred to as him a “hack.”
Hamlin and Truex, who entered Homestead above the lower line, now go to Martinsville under it.
Larson dove in for a pit cease late within the race, making an attempt and failing to decelerate to pit-road velocity. He hit Blaney, who was additionally making a cease, then careened into the sand barrels defending drivers from a nasty collision with the wall on the entry to pit lane. Larson went to the storage, accomplished for the day, however already locked into the championship race. Blaney recovered for a second-place end, battling Byron, Reddick and Bell for the win.
Bell wasn’t an element for many of the day. His automotive was dangerous, and he nearly went down a lap to the chief, however his staff introduced his Toyota Camry to life with changes, and a late-race warning bunched up the sector. He drove by means of everybody to take the lead with 15 laps to go, holding off his playoff rivals to win and advance to the Championship 4.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 22, 2023
His win leaves six drivers preventing for the ultimate two spots.
NASCAR has all the time been a dramatic sport with shut competitors. At Homestead, followers have been handled to some drivers crawling out of their factors deficits and others blowing their leads, all whereas figuring out none of it was closing till the checkered flag.
For years, followers could possibly be forgiven for considering that the playoffs — though entertaining — cheapened the worth of the championship. It is not a view held by many drivers, although.
“We’re all given the identical algorithm,” one instructed ESPN, “whoever navigates them one of the best wins.”
That driver is true. There are now not NASCAR seasons the place a driver dominates, will get an enormous factors lead and wins the championship a number of races to go. Typically the motive force who dominates would not win, and generally they do not even make it to the title race, however everybody will get the identical algorithm and just one wins.
The playoffs do not manufacture the drama. They simply give it a highlight, and we’re all higher off for it.