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Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014

Playoffs?!? Don't talk about playoffs!

Posted Tuesday, November 9, 2010, at 3:03 PM

Sorry folks, this blog has nothing to do with the Colts or their comical ex-coach. It's always fun to quote Mora the Elder, though.

We didn't do diddly poo offensively.

OK, enough of that.

No, this little bit of complaining is actually about NASCAR. More specifically, it's about the sport's attempt over the last decade to be more like traditional "team" sports and their playoff systems.

That's exactly what the "Chase for the Winston/Nextel/Sprint/T Mobile/AT&T/Verizon/(enter the next mobile carrier corporate takeover) Cup" was supposed to be. If things got too one-sided, the end of the season was too boring. Unlike most sports, NASCAR's biggest event was its very first of the year: The Daytona 500.

So, NASCAR introduced a "playoff" system in 2004. With the new system, with 10 races to go, the herd of drivers who could win the championship was thinned to 10 drivers (now 12).

But the first problem was, the herd wasn't really thinned. While only the top drivers could win the championship, everyone was still on the track for those races.

To draw an analogy from football, it would be like the Colts making the playoffs but still having to compete against the 1-win Cowboys with a chance to play spoiler.

A true "playoff" reduces the number of eligible participants and then continues to thin the field with each competition.

But Sunday was when it really went too far for me. On Sunday, Jimmie Johnson's team realized that its over-the-wall pit crew was officially terrible. Due to this, they switched crews with Jeff Gordon's team after Gordon crashed out of the race. For the remainder of the day, Johnson had much better pit stops with his borrowed team.

Things went so well, in fact, that Hendrick Motor Sports, which owns both Johnson's and Gordon's car, announced the pit crews would be swapped for the remaining two races. This is a smart move because, although Gordon is technically in the Chase, he trails point leader Denny Hamlin by too many points to actually have a chance to win.

Johnson, on the other hand, trails Hamlin by just 33 points with two races remaining. With a good race, he could overtake Hamlin this week at Phoenix.

So here's my problem. Let's say after the Giants won the National League Championship Series this fall, they decided, "We've made it this far, but we really don't trust our bullpen against the Rangers. We want a new one."

That would have been too bad. They have a roster, and they have to stick to it. The only leeway they have at that point is that a team can have the rights to a handful of players not on its "active" playoff roster. However, to activate one of those guys, they have to deactivate someone else.

Same thing in football, basketball, hockey. Essentially, after the trading deadline -- and certainly after the playoffs begin -- you have to stick with the guys who got you there so far.

In stock car racing, the drivers are quick to do lip service to the "team" effort that it requires, and rightly so. Without the guys in the garage and over the wall, those drivers who get all the ink are nowhere.

But when you can dump a huge part of your "roster" at the most crucial point in the season, the "team" concept is a joke, as is your half-baked idea of a "playoff system."



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...and the beat goes on...
Jared Jernagan
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Jared Jernagan is a 2003 graduate of Wabash College and has been in journalism since 2005.
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