Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Rookie Stripe: The Rookie’s Guide to Understanding Playoff Points

Photo credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
 The NASCAR Monster Energy Series playoffs are underway.

Each fall, the playoffs pit the 16 lucky drivers who earn a slot against one other on the grueling road to the championship. In the races that follow, eliminations leave just four drivers vying for the big win in the final race at Homestead Miami Speedway. Only one will take home the coveted championship.

It’s a high pressure road to get to the playoffs. Drivers and teams earn a berth by racking up points during the year, and drivers whose performances have been lackluster are already at a disadvantage.

(Note: All three tiers of NASCAR including the Camping World Truck Series, Xfinity Series and Monster Energy Series have playoffs, but this guide covers the Monster Energy Series. For more information on all three series, see this article on NASCAR.com.)

Cheering on your favorite driver is clearly of supreme importance, but just as important for the Rookie NASCAR fan is to understand how the points system for the playoffs (formerly known as the Chase) works. You’re not a real fan if you can’t throw around some lingo and talk the walk, and we all want to impress our friends, right?

Here are some basics of playoff points:

Drivers Have Been Accumulating Points Before the Playoffs Start.
NASCAR is more of a game of numbers than you might realize. First talking point: playoff points are different from regular season points, though they’re accumulated during the regular season. Even as drivers race in the early part of the season they hone in on racking up those playoff points, because it will help advance them to the next round during playoffs.

There are several ways drivers earn playoff points during the regular season:
Photo credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
  • Drivers get points based on performance in Stages 1 and 2 if they win a Stage (they get one playoff point). 
  • If a driver wins a race they get five playoff points. 
  • The top 10 ranked drivers at the end of the regular season earn points -- the regular season champion earns 15 playoff points, the runner-up to the season champion gets 10 points, third runner up gets eight points, fourth place gets seven points, all the way down to tenth place which gets one point. 
The Playoffs Start with the Round of 16.
While every driver participates in each race, only the top 16 drivers are actually competing for the championship in the last 10 races. All drivers start the Round of 16 (which is the start of the playoffs) with the same amount of points, plus whatever playoff points they’ve earned. Here’s what else to know:
  • After the Round of 16 race comes the Round of 12 (subsequent race), then the Round of 8, then the Championship race which is the four remaining drivers. Drivers are eliminated after each round. 
  • In the Round of 12, points reset. All drivers have the same amount of points again, and playoff points earned earlier in the season and during the playoffs carry over again. This repeats for the Round of 8. 
  • If a Round of 16 driver wins during the playoffs, they automatically advance to the next round. This is also true for the Round of 12 and Round of 8.  
  • The remaining drivers are determined based on the highest points. 
  • If there is a tie for the last car that will advance, whoever has finished highest in the Round of 16 advances. This is also true for the Round of 12 and Round of 8.  
  • During the Championship race at Homestead Miami, the race between the final four drivers is a one-race shootout. Whoever has the highest finish in points wins the Series, regardless if they win the race. 
Drivers Who Dominate During the Season Have an Advantage.
Because playoff points carry over from the regular season to the postseason, drivers who score big early on have a significant edge over the rest of the field. As the season winds closer to the playoffs each year, for those who haven’t won a race nor have they accumulated many points there’s enormous pressure to win one of the last regular season races to guarantee a spot in the playoffs.

With NASCAR’s current rule book, drivers are often motivated by playoff points because they need as many as possible. In 2018, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. were dubbed the “Big 3” because of their dominance all season long. They had earned so many points through wins and Stage wins that they carried a massive advantage over other drivers going into the playoffs. 

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