If you’re still someone on the fence about the NASCAR Playoff format after Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway I’ve got nothing for you.
I’ve said it time and time again when NASCAR first rolled out the elimination format idea and rounds that would determine the championship a few years ago I was not on board. At the time it felt too extreme and almost desperate to try and infuse life and energy into the format that determined the title.
But after that initial skepticism as the concept unfolded and evolved it was evident that decision to radically modify the previous Chase format was extremely prudent. The Can-Am 500 was the latest example of why.
While certainly not a bad race by any means, the 35th race of a grueling 36 event season had additional emphasis with the playoff implications applied to the day’s 312 laps. All day long the drama of who was going to make it to Homestead-Miami Speedway to join Joey Logano in the Championship 4 next week was front and center, in addition to some furious racing at the front of the field for just the race win.
It was a fascinating, entertaining and compelling afternoon all amplified by the intensity of the championship picture.
On to Homestead.
- It’s fitting the “Big 3” all make it to Miami to run for the championship along with special guest star Joey Logano. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have been the story nearly the entire year. While it wasn’t a slam dunk by any means the trio would make it, especially with Harvick’s adventurous week and race on Sunday, but they did and have the chance to battle it out. I’m sure some fans wanted to see the likes of a Chase Elliott or maybe a Cinderella story like Aric Almirola make it to Miami and be in the title picture. But having the “best of the best” in the sport all there against one another and the definitely capable Logano for the championship should make next week’s season finale special.
- The renovation of ISM Raceway received rave reviews with fan amenities and infield improvements now among the best in the sport. But the simple reconfiguration of the layout to move the start-finish line to just before what was the backstretch dogleg literally created what felt like a new track. While teams didn’t set up cars (or trucks) differently since the 1-mile track was in one sense the same as it was in the spring, drivers tackled it like a whole new speedway. The opportunity to fan out four and five wide near where the races started and finished produced a welcome change in competition. While it wasn’t as drastic a reconfiguration as the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, the new version of ISM Raceway is equally impressive in its own way.
- Christopher Bell put on a stirring drive from the back to the front to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race and earn his spot in the Championship 4 race in Miami. But the driver who won the regular season championship, Justin Allgaier, came up short of finishing where he needed to in order to advance to the title race. It was a bitter pill to swallow for the JR Motorsports driver who suffered damage after contact with John Hunter Nemechek earlier in the race and an example of how competitive things are once the playoffs roll around.
- Brett Moffitt’s Camping World Truck Series win continued the impressive story of Hattori Racing Enterprises this year but it did not come without controversy. Rather than using the NT1 spec engine used last week to a third-place Texas finish, HRE reverted back to its purpose-built Joe Gibbs Racing powerplant, which is their prerogative. The change did not sit well with Johnny Sauter, who piloted a GMS entry with the NT1 engine. “If it’s going to be a race like tonight, where it’s built motors versus spec motors, who in the hell knows, it’s a joke,” Sauter said after Friday’s race. “I’ve got nothing good to say. It’s embarrassing. The guys with built motors just drive away from you here. If they bring that next weekend, who knows how big of an advantage that could be. Torque and gear is a big advantage there. I like to call it torque multiplication, so we’re just going to go down there (Homestead) and see what happens.” It will certainly be interesting to see how the engine differences impact Friday’s Homestead race and the championship.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.