A Martin Truex Jr. championship would reveal the ________of the Playoffs system

Martin Truex Jr.

A Martin Truex Jr. championship would reveal the (strength/weakness) of the Playoffs system.

Martin Truex Jr. and his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team had a very strong regular season which earned the driver a spot in the 2023 NASCAR Playoffs. The 43-year-old racer from Mayetta, NJ achieved three wins in the first 26 races of the campaign and scored enough points over that portion of the schedule to claim the title of regular season champion. The James Small-led team’s performance over the first two-thirds of the year seemed to provide momentum going into the 10-race championship hunt.

However, that has not proven to be the case. During the six races that have made up the initial two rounds of the NASCAR Playoffs, Truex’s finishes have been less than ideal. The 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion kicked off the ‘Round of 16’ with an 18th place result at Darlington Raceway and has since not finished higher than his 17th place result at Texas Motor Speedway. His worst outing was a 36th place effort after a crash at Kansas Speedway knocked him out of the race early in the going.

The fact that Truex is still alive in the Playoffs despite his performance to date should cause observers to wonder what this says about the system being used by NASCAR to determine its season-long champion.

There are two possible ways to look at Truex’s circumstance. This could be a sign of the strengths built into the system or it could be an indication of the format’s weakness.

From the standpoint of identifying the strengths revealed by the championship-deciding playoff, one could argue, as Truex and his team probably would, that a driver who has performed well over most of the season can remain alive and in the hunt despite a stretch of less-than-ideal outcomes. Perhaps those who believe championships are meant to reward overall performance rather than a hot streak at the right time of year would accept this viewpoint.

When asked to explain how he has managed to remain in contention after posting six consecutive finishes outside the top-15, Truex offered his views on the matter.

“Stage points and bonus points,” Truex stated in a story posted by Kelly Crandall to Racer.com when asked how he had been able to advance this far after posting such poor results. “I didn’t create the system. We used it to our advantage.”

However, the opposing view would be that the fact Truex could conceivably still win his second title in spite of his showings in the first two rounds reveals a weakness, or flaw, in the system. He entered the Playoffs with the 15 point bonus awarded to the regular season champion as well as the five Playoff points he received for each race win(15 total) and six points earned as the result of stage wins throughout the season. In all, there were 36 Playoff points in his bank before the first race at Darlington ever took the green flag.

Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 19 JGR Toyota

Those accrued Playoff points likely won’t get Truex out of the ‘Round of 8’ so he will have to start finishing closer to the front if any further advancement is to occur.

When the current NASCAR Playoffs system was revealed, there was the claim that it would reward drivers who go for race wins rather than those who seemed willing to settle for “a good points day” while competing under past formats. And it can be argued that Truex’s current situation shows that it does exactly that by the fact that he has been able to use bonus points built up from race and stage wins during the early part, or regular, season.

At the same time, it is easy to argue that Truex still having a chance to win the championship reveals the weakness of the system because the format meant to reward winners within the Playoffs. Never finishing within the top-15 during the first six races shows that there are ways around doing what was originally claimed the system would do.

As capable of a driver as Martin Truex Jr. is and as good of an organization as Joe Gibbs Racing is, it is not inconceivable to imagine that the No. 19 could pull into victory lane at either Las Vegas, Homestead or Martinsville thus punching a ticket into the Championship 4. A win in Phoenix would win a championship.

In theory, two good races and eight bad ones during the NASCAR Playoffs could win Truex the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship. Yes, the regular season champion should be rewarded but it should not necessarily be so much so that it essentially locks that driver into the ‘Round of 8’. To this writer, it seems as if a championship by anyone under those circumstances reveals the weakness in this format.

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