As the final four prepare to thunder to their fate at Homestead, not everyone is thrilled with the new format to determine the Cup champion. Again and again I read how appreciative some are for NASCAR allowing them to do other things on a Sunday afternoon than watch a sport they have abandoned. It would seem more than a few do not see the elimination format as one that might determine a true champion, or promote a style of racing they can support.
Some might argue that Denny Hamlin should not even be in the mix considering his season long points total. The thing is, a win and an automatic berth into the Chase allowed him to take a couple of races off to mend, and he took advantage of it. You can’t fault a man for using the rules to his own advantage.
You might find some fault in Joey Logano. Sure, he is not universally loved, but you cannot fault with what he has done on the track this season. Pick any format you like and Logano is a contender. No Chase, and Logano would trail Jeff Gordon by 29 points. The old Chase format has Logano ahead of Kevin Harvick by the same amount. Even my own format in setting up my Hot 20 all season, awarding a 25 point bonus for a win rather than just 3, has Logano within seven of Gordon over the course of the season.
Hell, I even put together some stats for if we had a 31 race regular season, followed by a five race playoff format that was restricted to only the top 20 contenders. Logano, along with Harvick, Hamlin, and Ryan Newman, would still have their shot, but so would three others. The good news is that Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. would still be realistically in contention. The bad news is that with the results from Talladega and Texas, Jeff Gordon would not.
No format would satisfy everybody. There is no question the present system, from the win and in method of making the Chase, to the elimination rounds, to the final dash, has caused some excitement. While season long challengers like Gordon, Keselowski, and Earnhardt are no longer eligible, the loss of playoff favorites has not reduced the legitimacy of eventual champions in other sports. If Major League Baseball was truer to his roots, with its playoffs restricted to the champions of 4 eight team divisions, the San Francisco Giants would not have even been a contender. They would have finished behind the Dodgers and Cardinals in an expanded NL West, never mind becoming the World Series champions.
As they say, it is what it is. Logano, Harvick, Newman, and Hamlin will each be driving to claim their first Cup championship. All are worthy, all are talented, and each should be acceptable as the 2014 champion as they would have claimed the prize under the rules of the day.
That said, Jeff Gordon remains our hottest of the hot over the course of the entire season.
BOLD = A contender for the championship
1 – Jeff Gordon – 4 Wins – 1305 Pts
2 – Joey Logano – 5 Wins – 1298 Pts
3 – Brad Keselowski – 5 Wins – 1248 Pts
4 – Dale Earnhardt Jr – 4 Wins – 1233 Pts
5 – Kevin Harvick – 4 Wins – 1214 Pts
6 – Jimmie Johnson – 4 Wins – 1120 Pts
7 – Carl Edwards – 2 Wins – 1093 Pts
8 – Matt Kenseth – 0 Wins – 1093 Pts
9 – Ryan Newman – 0 Wins – 1093 Pts
10 – Kyle Larson – 0 Wins – 1049 Pts
11 – Greg Biffle – 0 Wins – 997 Pts
12 – Kyle Busch – 1 Win – 986 Pts
13 – Jamie McMurray – 0 Wins – 975 Pts
14 – Denny Hamlin – 1 Win – 971 Pts
15 – Kasey Kahne – 1 Win – 956 Pts
16 – Clint Bowyer – 0 Wins – 943 Pts
17 – Austin Dillon – 0 Wins – 939 Pts
18 – Paul Menard – 0 Wins – 904 Pts
19 – Brian Vickers – 0 Wins – 900 Pts
20 – Kurt Busch – 1 Win – 899 Pts