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The Playoff Battle Intensifies

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Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2018 9:24 pm

After having last weekend off, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) is heading to Darlington Raceway for a Sunday evening race as the

regular season winds down and the playoff excitement ramps up. With only two more weeks before the MENCS playoffs commence, the battle for the remaining coveted playoff spots is intensifying among drivers. But as we eagerly await for the playoff field to be finalized and for the Cup series to head west for the first race of the Round of 16 in Las Vegas, we were treated to a glimpse of what playoff racing is all about this past weekend.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) took full advantage of being in the Sunday spotlight this past weekend as they raced at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for the first of their seven-race playoff slate. After whizzing around the road course all afternoon, the race came down to the last turn of the final lap.

As the race leader, rookie Todd Gilliland, went into the final turn looking to secure his first career truck series victory, teammate Noah Gragson got into the side of Gilliland’s truck, spinning both drivers around. Justin Haley took advantage of the clash between teammates, winning the race and securing a spot in the next round of the playoffs.

While teammates normally wouldn’t risk taking each other out of the race, all bets are off come playoff time. The intensity of the truck race showed just how important it really is to score a win in the playoffs. However even if a driver like Gilliland is not in the playoffs, they’ll still be racing hard to find the satisfaction of reaching Victory Lane. During the playoffs in each of NASCAR’s three national series though, a win by a playoff eligible driver automatically secures them a spot in the next round of the playoffs.

This rule adds enormous pressure to win a playoff race because with each round of the playoffs consisting of only three races, a wreck or mechanical failure in just one of the three races can easily eliminate a driver from championship contention.

The importance of a win has led to many monumental moments in the playoffs since NASCAR implemented the new playoff format in 2014. In the first year of the new format, the win and advance rule impacted the eventual 2014 MENCS champion.

During the Round of 8, Kevin Harvick’s back was up against the wall and he was facing elimination due to a poor finish at Martinsville. In the final race of the round however, Harvick dominated in Phoenix and captured the checkered flag to secure his spot in the Championship 4. Harvick went on to win the Ford EcoBoost 400 here at Homestead-Miami Speedway, claiming his only MENCS championship to date.

The interesting thing about Harvick’s 2014 MENCS Championship is that under the old playoff format prior to 2014, Harvick’s win in Phoenix wouldn’t have propelled him into a Championship 4 round. The beauty of sports though is that there are so many unthinkable moments that can happen. That’s what keeps us on the edge of our seats and adds to the excitement and thrill of watching each week. Thanks to NASCAR’s playoff format, we’ve been treated to iconic playoff moments such as Harvick’s in 2014.

Although many of these special moments can be suspenseful and entertaining, the ferocity of drivers battling to advance to the next round doesn’t always end in glory. In 2017, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin engaged in a pair of altercations during the Round of 8. With Elliott leading the first race of the round at Martinsville, Hamlin bumped the back of Elliott’s car and spun him out with three laps to go. Running in the top-5 two weeks later and both still needing a win to advance, the two drivers again made contact during the final stage, ultimately ending each driver’s title hopes.

Even though Elliott and Hamlin’s championship pursuit ended after the Round of 8, that’s part of what makes the playoffs so special. The same competitiveness that Harvick used to secure his 2014 MENCS Championship is what ultimately knocked Elliott and Hamlin out of the playoffs in 2017. The playoff intensity leads to situations where anything can happen and drivers are willing to be extra aggressive in pursuit of winning a title.

As we saw the first truck series playoff race come down to the final turn this past weekend, I couldn’t help but anticipate the MENCS playoffs even more. There’s been so many breathtaking and unexpected moments over the years both here at Homestead-Miami Speedway as well as the other playoff tracks. While the intensity ratchets up even more for our races here since we host NASCAR’s championships, it’s also due to the fact that Ford Championship Weekend is the only round of the playoffs that consists of just a single race. And as we all know, anything can happen over the course of 400 miles. I’m just excited to see what that will be this year.


Sunday, September 2 at 2:00 PM (ET)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway

Tune In: NBCSN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

Saturday, September 1 at 3:30 PM (ET)

NASCAR XFINITY Series Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 at Darlington Raceway

Tune In: NBCSN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is off for the next few weeks as NASCAR’s other series conclude the regular season. The NCWTS playoffs will resume September 14 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.


September 7 Fast Lane Friday

September 8-9 Miami Exotic Auto Racing

September 15 Performance Driving Group

September 16 Give Back at the Track

September 21 Fast Lane Friday


Nov. 16

Ford EcoBoost 200 Camping World Truck Series Championship Race

Nov. 17

Ford EcoBoost 300 XFINITY Series Championship Race

Nov. 18

Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy Series Championship Race

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