Photo Credit: AP News

By Zane Miller

In the long history of the NASCAR Cup Series, a 'postseason' format has only been introduced in the past 20 years. This is an incredibly short period of time compared to sporting leagues such as the NFL, which has had some form of postseason since 1932, as well as the MLB and NHL, which have had postseason games since their inceptions in 1903 and 1918 respectively.

That being said, my new series will aim to figure out how history would be different if NASCAR had adopted a playoff format far earlier than they did in reality. I opted to start with the 1972 Cup Series season since that’s the first year that the series was somewhat structured, as 1949 through 1971 were basically the Wild West with up to 62 races in a given season, resulting in many top drivers missing several races during the year. As such, 1972 is often referred to as the first year of NASCAR’s ‘modern era’.

How my version of the postseason format works is very different from the current one used in the Cup Series, which boils down to the lowest four drivers in standings in each of the first three rounds (three races per round) being eliminated until reaching the final race, with whichever of the four remaining drivers finishing highest in the race winning the championship. Instead, my format uses the final nine races of the schedule rather than the final 10, and has a playoff field of eight drivers instead of 16.

From there, the eight highest drivers at the end of the ‘regular season’ would be seeded any other playoff format, with the eighth-ranked driver going up against the first-ranked driver, the seventh-ranked driver against the second-ranked driver, and so forth. Whichever driver finishes ahead of the other twice in each three-race span moves on to the next round until two drivers remain for the championship round, which is a best-of-three just like the other rounds, rather than a one-shot deal like the current Cup Series championship race.

As a general disclaimer, I know that this format probably wouldn’t be able to work in reality with major tweaks, since there will be situations that arise in which all drivers are already advanced to the next round with one race still remaining, so fans buying tickets for the third race would be upset that they paid for a playoff race but instead got one that was already rendered moot. Also, the race results likely wouldn’t be exactly the same since the playoff drivers would be employing strategy differently based on the situation at hand. This series isn’t meant to be taken 100 percent as what definitely would have happened, but is more meant as a fun look at what could have happened and how the sport’s history would be changed.

Anyway, feel free to refer back to this article for any clarification and, as always, enjoy!