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WEAVER: Debating the Leaked XFINITY Playoff Proposal

On Wednesday, Jeff Gluck of USA Today tweeted an interesting tidbit that was forwarded to him by an anonymous member of the NASCAR Fan Council.

Contained in the tweet was the outline of a potential playoff format that NASCAR claims to be considering for use in the XFINITY Series. In short, it’s very similar to the one employed by the Sprint Cup Series, but also has the added feature of preventing Cup regulars from dropping down and stealing wins from tour regulars.

The concept as presented to the Fan Council goes as follows:

  • Full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers would not be able to race in any of the NASCAR XFINITY Series races
  • The XFINITY Series championship field consists of 12 XFINITY drivers
  • Drivers eligible for the playoffs are determined by the greatest number of wins after 26 events, then drivers without a win who have the most points will take the remaining spots
  • The championship format would consist of seven races; six races and one final championship race
  • The number of championship drivers in contention decreases after every three XFINITY races, from 12 to start; eight after race three and four after race six
  • A win at any of the three races within a round equals advancement into the next round
  • Four drivers enter the NASCAR XFINITY Championship race in Miami with a chance to win, with the highest finisher amongst those four capturing the NASCAR XFINITY Series title.

There’s a lot to digest here and frankly, this may be something worth considering.

Sure, the playoff concept is one that doesn’t sit well with a vocal percentage of long-time NASCAR fans. In their eyes, a champion is best crowned with the perfect ratio of winning and consistency over a full season with no resets whatsoever.

But if there is something fans dislike more than the Chase, it’s Cup Series drivers dipping down into the lower divisions and taking rides and victories away from younger drivers. It’s a complaint that predates the Chase for the Championship with fans lamenting Winston Cup drivers who participated in Busch Series races, an act still known to this day as Buschwacking.

Unfortunately for fans who want to see the XFINITY Series roster stand on its own, the economics just don’t make sense without a radical overhaul of the status quo.

Race teams, even at the XFINITY Series level, require a tremendous amount of money to participate, and for the time being, that has meant bringing in Sprint Cup drivers to come in and sell advertising. Some of the top teams in the garage have been able to allocate resources to support up-and-coming talent, but it’s not the easiest endeavor in the world.

There are some in the sport who privately claim that the XFINITY Series couldn’t exist without the revenue, attention and ticket sales/TV rating that Cup drivers bring in by participating on Saturday afternoons.

So for NASCAR to listen to the fans that want a Cup-free XFINITY Series field, a concession will have to be made. Could the attention and drama of the Chase for the Championship inject enough excitement into the tour to make up for the lack of Cup drivers to draw casual fans?

Maybe.

But there’s something else to be considered too. With NASCAR drawing closer to the implementation of a franchising model for the Sprint Cup Series, there could be several Cup drivers and teams looking for a new home if the field shrinks to less than 43 cars, as has been heavily rumored.

With Cup drivers hypothetically banned from the XFINITY Series, several drivers may look to drop down and inherit many of the rides that their Cup counterparts would have otherwise held. In fact, part of the new franchising model could even require Sprint Cup team owners to own full-time XFINITY teams, in the same way stick-and-ball franchises are required to invest in minor league feeder systems.

There’s no doubt that the XFINITY Series has grown stale over the past decade.

The schedule has slowly morphed into a carbon copy of its Cup counterpart and now the driver roster has started to reflect that synergy as well. A playoff format may alienate a portion of the fan base that already loathes the Chase for the Championship, but if it gives the tour its own identity and attracts sponsors to young prospects is that not a net gain?

Opine away.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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By Matt Weaver

Matt Weaver is the Executive Editor of POPULAR SPEED. He has covered NASCAR since 2011 and full-time since 2013. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He has been published all across the country and routinely makes radio appearances on Sirius XM Satellite radio and NBC Sports Radio Network.