Should IndyCar Adopt A Playoff System?

Last week, I was reading through Robin Miller’s Mailbag. I came across a very lengthy letter that had a well-thought out suggestion on how IndyCar could structure a season-ending playoff method to crown its champion. It involved racing on fall holidays (Columbus Day, Veterans Day) on a street course, road course and an oval. The finale would be the oval contested in prime time on Veterans Day at Fontana.

Like Robin Miller did, I’ll give the guy credit for his creativity. Unlike what Miller said, this conversation needs to stop. Now! The playoff advocate said that IndyCar could not survive another five to ten years without some sort of playoff system in place. I strongly disagree.

What am I missing here? Why does anyone in the world think that IndyCar needs a playoff? I know, I know…I’m old and have outdated thinking. Thanks to my wife last week, you all now know how old I am. But this has nothing to do with age, being a traditionalist or having outdated thinking. This is just common sense.

For the last fifteen years or so, NASCAR has decided its championship with an end of season playoff-type format. For years they referred to this format as The Chase to the Championship or just The Chase. But a couple of years ago, they decided that it must be referred to only as The Playoffs. Every time I hear an announcer or anyone refer to the end of the NASCAR season as The Playoffs, I hear a little Jim Mora voice going off in my head.

But unlike that famous video of Mora that I still find funny more than twenty years later, I cringe just a little bit when I hear talk of the NASCAR playoffs.

Each year since its inception, the NASCAR playoff-system has gotten more and more convoluted. Its even more confusing than the Indianapolis 500 Qualifying format that has been in place since 2014 and I quit trying to understand that a couple of years ago.

The thing is – these aren’t playoffs. Those that don’t make each cut aren’t sitting at home watching the final races on television. When the Dodgers and Red Sox started playing the World Series last week, the Yankees, Astros, Brewers and Rockies weren’t still playing. They were done. Their seasons were over and they had scattered for the offseason. The baseball field had been whittled down to two teams who were still playing. Some might say only one team continued to play in the World Series, as Boston met little resistance as they clinched the series in only five games by beating LA again last night 5-1.

The NASCAR fields may be whittled down for eligibility to win the title, but there are still cars that didn’t sniff a victory all season still racing alongside.

I can think of a lot of bad points about a playoff system with IndyCar, but the worst may be that it cheapens the earlier races. I can’t stand the concept of double-points for any race, and I’ve said so here many times. But I would take that over a system that puts more emphasis on the last three races of the season – just because they happen to be held in warm weather locations.

Think about it. Portland is apparently staying in its late season slot. Do we really want Portland to be deemed as a much more important road race than Barber, Road America or Mid-Ohio? It would be if it is part of the playoffs and the others are not. The early races would be considered as stepping-stone races just to position a driver to get into the playoffs (there goes that Jim Mora voice again). What they do in the playoffs is much more important than getting there.

The Chicago Cubs won a lot of games this past season. However, they stumbled in the last week of the regular season and had to play a one-game playoff with Milwaukee just to determine who was the Wild Card. They then had a Wild Card play-in game (they called it a playoff, but it was really playing for the right to join the playoffs) and proceeded to lose it in forgettable fashion. Those early games meant nothing because when the Cubs got to the post-season, they did nothing. It’s the last two games that their fans will remember this winter.

I don’t want St. Petersburg, Barber and Long Beach to be meaningless. Every race should matter equally, but in a playoff scenario – their significance would be diminished.

That’s why I’ve never been a fan of double-points – even with the Indianapolis 500. There was something pure about the fact that even though the Indianapolis 500 was the biggest race in the world, it paid the same amount of points as Iowa or Toronto.

While IndyCar is slowly but surely digging its way out of a ton of problems, their championship was not one of them. Since Tony Kanaan wrapped up the 2004 championship prior to the season finale at Texas, every championship battle has been carried into the season finale. Granted, had double-points for the season finale not been in effect in 2016 – Simon Pagenaud would have wrapped up the championship in the penultimate race at Watkins Glen. Still, that’s a strong argument to leave the championship alone.

The IndyCar season is roughly sixteen to eighteen races every year, stretching from March to September or October. That’s not a lot of races over that large block of time. It’s not like NASCAR that has more than twice as many races from February to November. I guess when your series runs practically every single weekend, things get in a rut and you feel the need to spice things up.

Going into any given season, it’s unpredictable which races might be snoozers while others keep you on the edge of your seat. Since Pocono has returned to the schedule, they’ve held races that fell into both categories. It’s just the nature of the beast. But with so few races, I simply don’t think that IndyCar needs to spice up the races within the fan base. It’s the people that are not fans that IndyCar needs to go out and get. You don’t cultivate new fans with a complicated, hard-to-explain system of crowning your champion.

Ever since NASCAR introduced The Chase, which devolved into The Playoffs – I’ve always thought that it reeked of desperation and gimmickry. As time went on and they kept tweaking it and making it harder to understand; it almost became comical. But if IndyCar ever adopted a playoff system – I would not be laughing (thanks to Phil Kaiser for schooling me on the difference between adapted and adopted). It would be one of the saddest developments since I learned of the infamous 25/8 rule.

But for whatever reason, I’m seeing more and more people say that IndyCar needs a playoff. Why would they want such a thing? It’s like wishing for herpes. Once you get it, you’re stuck with it. So if any of you are seriously asking for IndyCar to start doing a NASCAR-like playoff format – just stop it!

George Phillips

20 Responses to “Should IndyCar Adopt A Playoff System?”

  1. With you 100%,George. Racing as a whole does not need playoffs. They sort of work in NHRA because their races are basically an elimination system, but other types of racing, NO.
    Can you imagine how complicated F1 would make a playoff system?

  2. Jim in Wilmington Says:

    Ever since NASCAR began their “play-off” system, their ratings have done nothing but decline. Indy Car doesn’t need this at all.

  3. Bruce Waine Says:

    Keeping up with the Jones …..

    If …….YES…………………Why not just rebrand INDY Car to NASCAR & be done with it ?

    NASCAR buys IMS and rebrands to………… NMS …..NASCAR MOTOR SPEEDWAY ……………….

    In addition to the benefits of the “Play-off” System, open wheel drivers (formerly known as INDY Car drivers) according to the NASCAR Rule Book will now be allowed the additional benefit of “bumping” their competitors out of any and all races.

    Such allowance will prove financially beneficial for everyone involved down to the lowly tire changer since there will be a need for more race car components to replace those that are regularly destroyed at each “race.”

    Team employees will benefit by being paid more overtime in repairing & rebuilding the race cars, extra haulers will be needed to transport the extra racecar components, etc…..

    The Dallara factory will enjoy the extra profits once they complete another building to expand their production line in an attempt to keep pace with the avalanche of replacement parts orders…………….

    The down side may be that there becomes fewer, available, qualified drivers to draw from as they replace those who become injured based on the “bumping” allowance………………

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      NASCAR is coming ! ! ………………… NASCAR is coming………….. ! ! !

      Today at 8:56 AM

      Indianapolis Motor Speedway has shared “NASCAR Results Martinsville: Joey…

      From “Indianapoplis Motor Speedway (their web site press release) 16 hours ago.. @IMS @joey Logano won the fight @ Martinsville to lock in a seat in the championship…… ”

      Viewed as Just another chapter in the re-education of INDY Car fans by IMS ………. ? ?

      • Bruce Waine Says:

        Martinsville Post Race interview sourced from Motorsport web site……’Told Truex had referred to Joey Logano’s move to bump him out of the way on the final lap to gain the victory as a “cheap shot” and “a cheap win,” Penske – Logano’s team owner, Roger Penske – was asked if he saw it that way.

        “I certainly didn’t. He’s a racer and should know better than to say that. That’s as clean a shot as you can have in a race like this,” Penske said after Sunday’s race. “I didn’t hear Kyle Busch or (Kyle Larson) have any kind of conversation after that race………….”

  4. Hell NO!

    Next question.

  5. TheAmericanMutt Says:

    A point of contention: didnt Wheldon have the championship locked with several races to go in 05?

    • billytheskink Says:

      That is right, Wheldon held a 92 point lead on Kanaan going into the season finale where only a maximum of 54 points could be won. Wheldon led by 102 points with two races to go, practically but not technically locking up the championship.

      Also, no playoffs. Long-time racing fans don’t want them and non-racing fans have rarely, if ever, been drawn by them in racing.

    • You are correct. I checked with fellow Nashvillian Russ Thompson, who is the stat guru for IndyCar. He agreed with you. My mistake. – GP

  6. George, there are two things that I am very vocal about when it comes to IndyCar Racing. No electric cars and No Playoff System.

    The NASCAR playoff system is a convoluted way of generating excitement, at the cost of all the races after Daytona. Really, you only need to watch Daytona (because it is Daytona) and the Final Race to get the Season’s Results. I’m an IndyCar fan through and through, but I did used to watch NASCAR when it didn’t conflict. The “Chase” started to move me out, and the ridiculous Stage Racing finished me off. Don’t even get me started on Green-White-Checker restarts.

    I watched Daytona…the Brickyard (For the Track, not the racing), and I may watch the end of Homestead. All the other races mean nothing. A driver that wins 15 races during the year could theoretically not be eligible for a Championship. I don’t know how anyone can defend that from a racing point of view.

    Why is it a bad thing if someone wins a Championship before the end of a Season? I don’t get it I guess….Get off my Lawn…

  7. The poll tells us all we need to know. NO

  8. Isn’t the NASCAR playoffs team orders galore? Nobody needs that in IndyCar, much less the Big Three.

  9. Jim Mora said it best and as Bourdais might say: “Non!”

  10. “Why would they want such a thing? It’s like wishing for herpes. Once you get it, you’re stuck with it.”
    no one wished for herpes, but they were willing to take that chance to get what they really wanted. enough money (NBC?) might tempt IndyCar into playoff and a roll of the herpes dice.

  11. James T Suel Says:

    George I am 100% no playo,ff for IndyCar. I am 68 years old and go 3 to 5 IndyCar races a year. Play off my !@#$%#! Its just a demolition derby Nascar style. How much talent does it take to bump or wreck the guy in front of you. BS, I am from the group that things at the end of the season , the guy with the most wins, IS THE CHAMPION! So no playoff for me.

    • BrandonWright77 Says:

      Shouldn’t it be the guy with the most points is the champion? It’s possible to win the championship without winning a race all year…in fact that’s exactly why the NASCAR playoffs came about.

  12. Randy Holbrook Says:

    Next thing you know some will be hollering for OVERTIME too!

  13. We don’t need no stinking playoffs. thank you very much. May the racer with the most points wins the championship. Keep it simple!

  14. Says:

    Spam much?

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