Written by Sean McKean, Edited by Simran Kanthi
Upon Joey Logano's recent clinching of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series championship, the format by which he has done it has come under scrutiny once more. Since its introduction in 2014, the "win and you're in" format, more formally called the NASCAR Playoffs, has been mired in controversy. Dominant drivers missing out on titles due to a manufactured 'Game 7 Moment' will - understandably - be an unpopular way to decide a champion among fans and drivers alike. However, no matter how much fans and drivers will complain about the format, NASCAR has no incentive to remove it.
The most obvious case of the playoffs' "magic" came just from the penultimate race of the season at Martinsville. With two laps to go, Trackhouse driver Ross Chastain was sitting in P10, coming to the realisation his season may be done. However, in a last-ditch effort to make the final four, Chastain sent a self-proclaimed "hail mary". Wall-riding turns three and four to go from P10 to P5, he clinched his way into the final four, knocking out Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin.
This move stunned everyone in the NASCAR world, with it getting the nickname of a "video game move". However, this did not just get people in the NASCAR world talking. Formula One drivers like Pierre Gasly and Fernando Alonso tweeted about it, giving Chastain praise for what he accomplished. Other major news outlets, such as ESPN and Today Show, aired the move on their shows. With major outlets and popular figures alike talking about the move, it is estimated the clip of Chastain's "video game move" got 106 million views, a view count NASCAR has never come close to seeing before. How does this tie into the playoffs? Since Chastain made the move to gain points towards the playoffs, NASCAR will see the insanely high view count and see no reason to remove the current format, as it has arguably produced the most famous moment the sport has ever seen in its 75-year history.
However, this format is no stranger to clutch moments in the finale too. In 2021, Team Penske driver Austin Cindric looked set to take the NASCAR Xfinity Series title as he started the final lap. Joe Gibbs driver Daniel Hemric was trailing behind but gaining slightly as time dwindled away. Coming into turn three on the final lap, Hemric sent his car into the corner, bumping Cindric out of the way to narrowly take not only his first win but also his first championship.
This finish was very popular among NASCAR fans, being unofficially called the best of the three title deciders of the weekend. Through the celebrations of the #18 Joe Gibbs crew, it was despair for the #22 Team Penske crew. Cindric looked very disappointed in his post-race interview, seeing as he just lost out on what would have been a title season in any other format, but instead is settling for second place to a driver who only won their first race of the season that very night. For NASCAR though, a finish like that is what they want: a driver clutching up the title in a down-to-the-wire moment. Whether you admit it or not, the playoffs format is the reason why the ending of the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series season is so memorable.
The playoffs format has produced several controversies: awarding the title in one race, undeserving drivers advancing, and driver shenanigans. It is clear to many fans that the playoffs are not the direction the sanctioning body should continue going. However, no matter the outcry over the format, NASCAR will never be inclined to change it, and quite frankly: why should they?