Hot 20 – The Elimination Format was Good, but an Actual Five Race Post-Season Even Better

Over the course of the season, Jeff Gordon was the top driver of 2014. However, NASCAR has not determined its champion using the results of the entire campaign for more than a decade. They want excitement, drama, unpredictability. They want what the other big boy sports have, and when they waved the flag to start the season finale, four drivers had an even shot to claim the prize. Unfortunately, 39 we knew who would not, also were out there.

Regular season and then the playoffs. That is what you get with the NFL, MLB, NBA, and the NHL. You play to entertain and to position yourself into earning a shot at the championship. Since 2004, NASCAR has also done this, except for allowing the non-contenders to remain out on the field of play getting in the way of those who matter.

What if NASCAR had a real playoff? It has been brought up that the season is too long, that there needs to be a reduction in the schedule. Realistically, there is no way anyone is going to say adios to the big dollars that comes with putting on a 36 event schedule, not including the extras at Daytona in February and Charlotte in May. However, NASCAR could shorten its regular season to 31 races, as it was in some seasons in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, for its 43 car fields. Then they could reduce it to the top 20 drivers and teams over the course of a five-race championship playoff, resetting the points to zero for the post-season, and allowing the best of the best to settle it among themselves.

The point system would remain the same, other than instead of “win and you are in,” winners are given credit for their victory with 25 bonus points, instead of the three they are presently given. In that way, a race winner would claim as much as 70 points, compared to the 43 for the runner-up. During the playoffs, points would range from one to 20, with the winner’s bonus reduced to three points in recognition of the smaller field and the impact of a win over the shorter “season.” So, in the playoffs, a race win could earn up to 25 points, compared to the runner-up’s 20. Yes, a driver sweeping the first four races of the playoff would have enough to win the title before they run Homestead but, let’s be honest, if they were that dominant they should win it.

The playoff teams would be expanded from 16 to 20, with those not making the cut sent home, their season over. Considering there are really no more than 25 quality entries in any given race, all we would be doing is exchanging quantity for quality, with Charlotte being the final race of the regular season.

Using 2014 as a guide for illustrative purposes, neither A.J. Allmendinger or Aric Almirola would make the playoffs as, despite each picking up a win, neither would have made it on points in our Top 20. Along with the other 14 Chasers from this season we would have included Austin Dillon, Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson and Paul Menard. A pretty fair exchange.


Twenty drivers hit the track all even as the opening round of the playoff Chase begins on the super speedway in Alabama. Kyle Busch once again got snake bit come go time when he gets caught up in a crash that left him dead last. Of course, those cars that got him in reality would have been home watching television under this format. Meanwhile, Brad Keselowski responded from the less than loving embraces Denny Hamlin wanted to put on him at Charlotte, and Matt Kenseth did, by claiming 24 points in winning at Talladega. Kenseth, ironically enough, pushed Bad Brad to the front and finished just behind him on the track.

1 Brad Keselowski 24 Pts
2 Matt Kenseth 20
3 Ryan Newman 18
4 Clint Bowyer 18
5 Kevin Harvick 16
6 Kurt Busch 16
7 Joey Logano 14
8 Kasey Kahne 14
9 Austin Dillon 12
10 Denny Hamlin 11
11 Kyle Larson 11
12 Jimmie Johnson 9
13 Brian Vickers 9
14 Carl Edwards 8
15 Greg Biffle 7
16 Jeff Gordon 6
17 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 5
18 Jamie McMurray 4
19 Paul Menard 2
20 Kyle Busch 1


Keselowski takes his four point lead over Kenseth to Martinsville, where more than a few need to come up big to make amends for the previous week. After finishing 17th at Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was among them. In winning, he added 24 points to the five he picked up the previous week, but he remained deep in the standings. Kenseth, Bowyer, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano all had a second strong playoff result, Keselowski was 16th to drop like a stone, as Jimmie Johnson slipped well out of contention with yet another less than stellar result.

1 Matt Kenseth 37 Pts
2 Ryan Newman 36
3 Clint Bowyer 34
4 Joey Logano 32
6 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 29
5 Brad Keselowski 29
8 Jeff Gordon 26
7 Denny Hamlin 26
9 Austin Dillon 24
11 Kurt Busch 19
10 Kevin Harvick 19
12 Greg Biffle 18
13 Kyle Larson 17
15 Carl Edwards 16
14 Brian Vickers 16
16 Kasey Kahne 15
18 Kyle Busch 14
17 Jamie McMurray 14
19 Jimmie Johnson 13
20 Paul Menard 12


Kenseth heads into the Lone Star State a point ahead of Newman, with Bowyer three away. When it came time to fire off the six guns, Gordon was seeking his own version of High Noon after Keselowski’s bid to take the lead left him with a cut tire and a good day that went for nought. To make matters worse, his rival returned atop the leader board. Johnson’s win at least moved him back into territory where he might yet see light at the end of the long tunnel he is trying to emerge from.

1 Brad Keselowski 48 Pts
2 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 44
3 Ryan Newman 44
4 Matt Kenseth 42
5 Joey Logano 42
6 Kevin Harvick 39
7 Denny Hamlin 38
8 Jimmie Johnson 38
9 Clint Bowyer 37
10 Kurt Busch 33
11 Kyle Larson 31
12 Kyle Busch 31
13 Jamie McMurray 30
14 Jeff Gordon 29
15 Austin Dillon 29
16 Carl Edwards 28
17 Greg Biffle 27
18 Brian Vickers 23
19 Paul Menard 18
20 Kasey Kahne 16


After the events at Texas, Keselowski takes a four point lead over both Earnhardt and Newman heading out to the desert, with Gordon’s dreams pretty much shattered by that torn tire. Kevin Harvick came up with a race most can only dream about, absolutely dominating most laps and pretty much all of the re-starts to win. He now sits just behind Keselowski, who finished fourth behind Gordon and Kenseth. Bowyer was dead last on this day, taking him from contender to pretender, while Johnson erased even a glimmer of good tidings by finishing 19th.

1 Brad Keselowski 65 Pts
2 Kevin Harvick 64
3 Matt Kenseth 60
4 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 58
5 Joey Logano 58
6 Ryan Newman 55
7 Denny Hamlin 55
8 Jeff Gordon 48
9 Kurt Busch 47
10 Kyle Larson 41
11 Jimmie Johnson 40
12 Jamie McMurray 39
13 Greg Biffle 39
14 Clint Bowyer 38
15 Carl Edwards 36
16 Kyle Busch 35
17 Austin Dillon 32
18 Brian Vickers 30
19 Paul Menard 23
20 Kasey Kahne 22


Heading for Miami and the final showdown, 10 drivers remain mathematically alive with seven still with a legitimate shot at the title. Kenseth and Harvick, in fact, could claim it with a victory, no matter what Keselowski did. That is just what Happy Harvick did, leaving Keselowski’s third place result at Homestead just not good enough. A five race playoff, only 20 cars on the track and, in this scenario, the same Sprint Cup champion as provided by the elimination series.

1 Kevin Harvick 88 Pts
2 Brad Keselowski 83
3 Matt Kenseth 75
4 Ryan Newman 74
5 Denny Hamlin 70
6 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 65
7 Joey Logano 64
8 Jeff Gordon 61
9 Kurt Busch 58
10 Jamie McMurray 55
11 Jimmie Johnson 52
12 Clint Bowyer 51
13 Kyle Larson 49
14 Paul Menard 40
15 Greg Biffle 40
16 Carl Edwards 39
17 Kyle Busch 37
18 Austin Dillon 36
19 Brian Vickers 35
20 Kasey Kahne 31

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

Ron Thornton
Ron Thornton
A former radio and television broadcaster, newspaper columnist, Little League baseball coach, Ron Thornton has been following NASCAR on this site since 2004. While his focus may have changed over recent years, he continues to make periodic appearances only when he has something to say. That makes him a rather unique journalist.


  1. Interesting idea…not sure about only having 20 cars on the track, but otherwise, I think I like it. If you still had all 43 cars, they could just use two separate point systems.


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