Here we are once again. The 2017 regular season has come to a close. The season that began at Daytona and saw the Monster Energy car win the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race has concluded at the track nicknamed “Racing Perfection.”
This season, unlike the last three, is a bit different as NASCAR is not just recognizing being victorious as a way to ensure a way into the playoffs, but instead is looking at success of the entire season.
Normally, bonus points were awarded to race winners and that alone was used to determine the seeding for the 16-driver playoff field. Instead, because of the use of Playoff Points, it’s rewarding the drivers that have seen success all season long for the duration of races.
Drivers with one win could be ahead of drivers that have two wins, simply because they earned more playoff points during the season stages.
Plus, this year when the first round ends, the 12 drivers that advance into the second round get to keep the playoff points they have earned through the season and use them to seed higher in the round. The lone race where playoff points mean nothing is the final race of the year at Homestead. At that race, the four remaining drivers for the championship will be reset to even standings, and just like when the 16-driver field was introduced for the championship, the first of those four drivers to the finish line will earn the championship.
I personally like this idea of rewarding drivers for work they and their team did during the entire season because it’s not just about winning, although that is a key emphasis. Instead this is saying they won the entire regular season by being consistent, having few troubles, and remaining focused on the task at hand.
But now the task is to get a victory to ensure a free pass into the second round of the Playoffs. That aspect has not changed, and that takes more pressure off a team once that victory is obtained.
After a win, that team that has the free pass into the next round has a bit of an easy ride over the next few races. At the same time, the pressure to still maintain momentum is there, and can easily disappear, even though the team would be securely into the next round.
So now, the pressure is on.
The Round of 16 begins next week. Three weeks later, it’s the Round of 12. Week seven will mean it’s down to just the Round of 8. Then at week 10, it’s the Championship 4, and a trophy gets handed out.
Let the playoffs begin.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch
STAGE 2 WINNER: Martin Truex Jr.
RESULTS: 1-Larson 2-Logano 3-Newman 4-Kurt Busch 5-Hamlin 6-Jones 7-Suarez 8-Johnson 9-Kyle Busch 10-Elliott
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Keselowski 12-Kahne 13-Earnhardt Jr. 15-Harvick 18-Blaney 19-Stenhouse Jr. 20-Truex Jr. 21-Dillon
CAUTIONS: 7 for 38 laps. Lap 36-40 (#34 Incident-T1); 88-92 (Smoke); 102-109 (Stage 1 Conclusion); 202-209 (Stage 2 Conclusion); 257-262 (#3 and 10-T2); 398-402 (#15 Incident-T4); 404-404 (#11 and 78 Incident-T1).
LEAD CHANGES: 13 among 7 drivers. M. Kenseth 1-89; B. Keselowski 90-92; Kyle Busch 93-104; R. Newman 105-108; Kyle Busch 109-110; K. Larson 111-129; Kyle Busch 130-153; M. Truex Jr. 154-257; K. Larson 258-286; M. Truex Jr. 287-334; D. Earnhardt Jr. 335-347; B. Keselowski 348-353; M. Truex Jr. 354-399; K. Larson 400-404.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 2 Mins, 52 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 99.417 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: Under Caution
2017 MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP PLAYOFFS: 1. Truex Jr, 2053; 2. Larson, -20; 3. Kyle Busch, -24; 4. Keselowski, -34; 5. Johnson, -36; 6. Harvick, -38; 7. Hamlin, -40; 8. Stenhouse Jr, -43; 9. Blaney, -45; 10. Elliott, -47; 11. Newman, -48; 12. Kurt Busch, -48; 13. Kahne, -48; 14. Dillon, -48; 15. Kenseth, -48; 16. Blaney, -50