Maybe what NASCAR needs is a playoff committee like the one that college football uses.
If a group of track executives and former stock car stars and a media member or two teamed up to select the four drivers who will compete for the Sprint Cup championship at Homestead on Sunday, I’m guessing they would have come up with something other than Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.
Gordon is fine with me, of course. It’s the farewell lap of a great career. For him to have a shot at a fifth Sprint Cup title at the age of 44, well, that’s just great television.
Mark him down as Notre Dame in our college football comparison, loved by some, hated by others but always a threat to shake down the thunder.
Moving on to Truex, however, what kind of convoluted points system gives a championship shot to a driver who has won just one race all year and who cruised around soggy Phoenix for a 14th-place finish last week? Truex is Oklahoma State, a candidate who should have been eliminated by now and doesn’t really belong in the final four.
Busch is the hottest of the championship contenders. He broke a leg and a foot in a crash at Daytona in February, which cost him 11 starts. Even so, Busch won four times during the Sprint Cup season, which has him on the verge of a career breakthrough championship at Homestead. Let’s call him Clemson then, and prepare for the excruciating possibility of another Clemsoning.
Last there is Harvick, a top driver who nonetheless operates below the radar when it comes to being recognized and appreciated by sports fans who don’t follow NASCAR regularly. Call him Iowa, and don’t come hollering at me that Harvick is the defending Sprint Cup champion and I ought to know that. He’s Iowa.
So there’s your Final Four. Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Clemson and Iowa.
What about Alabama (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and Ohio State (Jimmie Johnson) and Oklahoma (Joey Logano) and bracket-busting Baylor (Matt Kenseth)? Is there no room for them when it comes to deciding who’s in?
The way this is going, it will rain all day Sunday at Homestead, making the whole championship finish an afterthought, and they’ll give the trophy to Gordon because all the network morning talk shows will be happy to have him.
I’d be more bothered by all this if NASCAR wasn’t likely to switch all the rules up again for next season, keeping everybody confused and nobody completely satisfied with the sport’s playoff product.
There’s no perfect way to sort out a season of chaos, but college football came closest last season by squeaking Ohio State into the final four at the last minute and being rewarded for it with a dominating championship performance by the Buckeyes.
Maybe NASCAR ought to just draft along behind whatever they’re doing. Might not be an entirely fair having a committee choose the Championship Four based on a season-long body of work, but it would be better than crunching numbers and living with whatever some computer spits out.