If you hate participation trophies, you’re not going to like what NASCAR has done to the Truck Series playoffs.
NASCAR announced Tuesday that the playoff field would be expanded from eight to 10 drivers in 2020. The expansion comes a year after just 11 drivers raced in all 23 Truck Series races in 2019. If you’re running full-time in the Truck Series on a decent team this season you have good odds of making the playoffs.
“The way the format was structured in the Gander Truck Series with the Round of 8, Round of 6, Round of 4, we were leaving some excitement on the table,” Truck Series managing director Brad Moran said via NASCAR.com. “Maybe three or four years ago, not so much, but certainly the last couple of years with the series strengthening to the position it’s in right now, we really felt putting 10 teams into the playoffs for a Round of 10 is just going to make it that much more exciting and interesting, and will put a lot of emphasis on winning races, which is what we try to do.”
If Moran is referring to the regular season when he references an increased emphasis on winning, well, reality flies in the face of his assertion. At least two drivers have made the eight-driver playoff field without winning a race in the regular season in each of the four previous Truck Series seasons.
Six of the eight drivers who qualified for the 2018 playoffs won races in the regular season. That meant two drivers made it to the playoffs via their regular-season points total. One of those two drivers was championship winner Matt Crafton. He became the first driver to win a title in NASCAR’s elimination playoff format without winning a race in November when he finished second to Austin Hill at Homestead.
Moran’s argument that playoff expansion will make the playoffs more exciting and interesting is a specious argument. And if NASCAR thinks the final seven races of the season are now more exciting with two more playoff drivers, it can be argued that the first 16 races of the season are set up to be less exciting.
The 2019 push to the playoffs was an intriguing one because drivers like Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton missed out on the playoffs despite driving for Toyota stalwart Kyle Busch Motorsports. Burton and Ben Rhodes would have made the playoffs in 2019 if the field was at 10 drivers.
More than half the full-time field should make playoffs
The total number of drivers who ran every race in 2019 was affected by a couple factors. Tyler Dippel, Johnny Sauter and Austin Wayne Self each missed time because of NASCAR suspensions. Playoff qualifier Tyler Ankrum didn’t turn 18 until after the Truck Series season started and he missed three races.
But when you add those four drivers and Jordan Anderson to the 11 drivers who were in every race, just 16 drivers ran at least 20 races a season ago.
That number isn’t far off from previous seasons either. In 2016, the first time the Truck Series had NASCAR’s elimination playoff format, 17 drivers ran 20 or more races. Sixteen ran 20 or more in 2017 and just 14 ran 20 or more in 2018. If this pattern holds — and there’s no reason to expect a drastic change — more than half of the drivers who attempt 20 or more races will qualify for the playoffs.
Number of playoff races isn’t changing
NASCAR isn’t adding playoff races to the schedule in 2020. It’s just changing the way the seven playoff races are structured. Two drivers will be eliminated after the first three-race round of the playoffs and four drivers will be eliminated after the second three-race round ahead of the winner-take-all finale among the final four drivers at Phoenix on Nov. 6.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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