Opinion: A Worthy Champion

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MRN's Pete Pistone says that whoever wins the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title will be a worthy champion. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Let me take this opportunity to speak to those of you out there that still have a problem with NASCAR’s playoff system.

You know who you are, the folks that say the last true Cup Series champion was Matt Kenseth in 2003, before the sport implemented the "Chase," those who insist that adding up points over the course of a 36-race schedule is the only way to prove a champion’s merit. The group that insists NASCAR ruined big-league stock car racing by creating a knockout, elimination-style format that ensures the championship trophy won’t be awarded until ... like, you know, the last race of the season.

It’s been 14 years since the concept was introduced in 2004. You remember 2004, right? It was three years before the now-ancient looking very first iPhone debuted. The Lakers were still good and won the NBA title. There were only two Shrek movies made and the second one had the biggest box office numbers that year. And "Friends" was still a prime-time television show not on a continuous syndication loop.

In short, it was an eternity ago.

Yet still today, we have people longing for the old days and rejecting the NASCAR playoffs.

My favorite fans are the ones that spend tireless hours adding up points in the old "classic" system, completely ignoring how drivers and teams have approached the several incarnations of the playoffs differently - especially in the new era of stages, which has completely altered the style of racing.

Now, the cries of dissent have grown louder as The Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway looms and all of a sudden, Martin Truex Jr. appears to some to be vulnerable. I guess that will happen when you win seven times, build up an insurmountable points advantage to clinch a berth in Miami but you finish second two weeks in a row at Martinsville and Texas.

All of a sudden, there’s blood in the water and Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and whoever claims the final Miami spot this week in Phoenix have a shot at the crown.

I still think Truex will prevail. But even if he doesn’t and should one of the three others take the title, they will be every bit of a worthwhile champion.

Teams that win the most regular-season races or games in other sports don’t always win the championship. The most glaring example in professional sports might be the 2007 New England Patriots, who went through the regular season unblemished at 16-0, won the first two playoff games but were denied the NFL championship by losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

NASCAR’s history is filled with years when the driver that won the most races didn’t win the title, including Jeff Gordon’s 10-victory campaign of 1996 when Terry Labonte was the champ or Kenseth’s 2003 crown, a year that saw Ryan Newman enjoy eight trips to Victory Lane.

Truex might suffer the same consequence if he’s not able to outdistance his trio of championship competitors at Homestead. While it would no doubt be devastating to the Furniture Row Racing driver and his team, it wouldn’t diminish his season or whoever winds up hoisting the Cup trophy.

That’s sports.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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