Analysis: Making NASCAR’s version of the Final Four is the new ‘elite’

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November 15, 2019 10:35 AM

Analysis: Making NASCAR’s version of the Final Four is the new ‘elite’

Kyle Busch, Harvick and Truex Jr. are the gold standards of this era.

Matt Weaver

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NASCAR’s final four was a familiar sight with Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.

This isn’t Jimmie Johnson’s Chase for the Championship anymore.
That goes without saying, of course, because this isn’t the championship format that Johnson trumped six times over a 10-year span.
The elimination format introduced in 2014 has produced five different champions over five different seasons, including Johnson’s seventh in 2016. That run is at serious risk this weekend as Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are poised to earn their second championship, with only Denny Hamlin seeking his first.
There is no doubt an element of randomness to winning championships now, especially as it pertains to the one-race best finisher wins the championship format that will move from Homestead-Miami Speedway to ISM Raceway in Phoenix next year.

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So, it begs the question if simply making the Championship 4 will be the true mark of excellence, rather than overall championships won.
The case could be made based on the 2019 final four—and who has made the most championship appearances over the past six seasons:
Kevin Harvick | Kyle Busch: 5
Martin Truex Jr.: 4Joey Logano: 3Denny Hamlin: 2Jimmie Johnson | Jeff Gordon | Brad Keselowski | Ryan Newman | Carl Edwards: 1  
Busch, Harvick and Truex have defined this era thus far, each winning a championship and making five, five and four appearances, respectively, between them.
With four drivers entering the final race with an on-paper equal shot, it’s really difficult to sustain championship success under this format, which is why there hasn’t been a repeat champion like there was when Johnson had the same 10 tracks to return to each season.
“I would say the odds are a lot worse in this system to win (a championship),” Truex said during the Championship Weekend media day on Wednesday in Miami. “I don’t know how to view that, to be honest. I don’t know if it’s final four appearances, straight‑up race wins. Championships are huge. I think it’s harder to win now than ever. Maybe one means more than one used to.”

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It’s kind of reminiscent of the New England Patriots, not so much for the championships won, but the sheer number of Super Bowl appearances overall. Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have appeared in nine Super Bowls, having won six of them. That doesn’t even include the four other seasons that they appeared in the AFC Championship Game before bowing out.
It’s going to be almost impossible for any one driver to match Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson with seven championships now.
So instead, look at the number of championship appearances a driver makes over his career. That will be new measuring stick.
“I think there’s some merit to championship appearances,” Hamlin said. “I think one race, winner-take-all, anything can happen. I mean, if you have a mechanical failure on lap 25, does that mean you’re not good enough? You made the final four.
“Making the final four is the culmination of your whole year. That is what deems your year a success. You made it to Homestead. Every single driver here will tell you that. No one is going to discount their year based off of the outcome on this weekend.”
Harvick admitted that he hasn’t thought of it that way before but conceded the virtue of the point, as well.
“Every generation is already judged differently, but it’s definitely a possibility that this generation will be judged based on the stat column of Championship 4s made, and that’s an interesting thought,” Harvick said.
The one contrarian, of course, is Kyle Busch, who shrugged off the notion of a potential dynasty that could have been—or still could be.
“Obviously, being able to come out as a champion in 2015, that was the greatest achievement,” Busch said. “You set your goal out for the beginning of the year to be able to go out there and do that.
“And you know, everybody’s goal thereafter is just to get to Homestead. … So, for us to be eligible five years in a row, I think is a pretty cool thing. But to come out with one (championship) to four (appearances) is not so cool.”
But actually, it’s pretty damn cool, once you change the definition of what constitutes greatness.

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Source:https://autoweek.com/article/monster-energy-nascar-cup/analysis-making-nascars-version-final-four-new-elite

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