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What Happens When NASCAR's Championship Contenders All Crash

What Happens When NASCAR's Championship Contenders All Crash
From Deadspin - November 9, 2017

You cant avoid complicated with NASCAR anymore, and two of its newer rules could potentially put huge wrinkles into the sports title raceswrinkles that could determine or de-crown a champion on the spot.

Some of the biggest changes to NASCAR in recent years have been in the overall championship format, as the organization has tried to make its car racing series more like a ball sport. The effort has made for some complex rules.

The first of the changes came right before the playoffs, as theyre now named, last season. That change was the addition of an encumbered finish to the rulebook:a form of unofficial disqualification that removes all the benefits of a drivers finish while not altering the official finishing order.

The second was the introduction of a repair clock for 2017, which took garage repairs out of the equation in most situations. The repair clock gives teams a certain amount of time to get a wreck-damaged car back on track at a certain speed, and forces cars that go into the garage after a wreck to stay there.

Those rules, while seemingly harmless in the big picture, could completely alter the championship both during and after the final race of the season. NASCAR knows that, but itll keep consistent with the rules no matter what happens.

How NASCAR Titles Are Decided

As of this race season, all three of NASCARs top national touring series use a knockout playoffs format to decide the champion. The numbers of drivers and races vary per series, but well use the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as an example throughout this post.

Heres how the playoffs, the last 10 races of the season, work:

The event at Phoenix Raceway this weekend will be the ninth race of the Cup Series playoffs. Currently, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all have automatic spots in the championship four, as NASCAR likes to call it. There is one spot remaining, and it will be decided this weekend.

Any of those four drivers could win the championship, but any of those four drivers could also have the championship ruled away. Lets talk about how.

In The Instance Of A Huge Wreck

In regards to the repair clock, NASCAR has no what if rules in place. That means a big wreck could end the championship right there on track, with results that could surprise the casual viewer.

On a call, Jalopnik laid out what a NASCAR spokesperson called a doomsday scenario: If all four championship contenders get into a wreck that sends all of them to the garage, in any series, is there a backup plan?

There isnt.

The new repair rules mean that if a driver goes into the garage as a result of crash damage, that driver wont come back out during the race. The title picture automatically gets weird right there: Before the repair rules, this would have created a thrashing of race cars in the garage, with the first team back out likely winning the title. It never happened that way, but could have.

Under the new rules, all of those teams would be done for the day. And, without a backup plan, NASCAR would use its general race rules that are already in place to determine the title winner: In the case of a caution before the final lap of the race, the finishing order is determined by running order at the end of the last completed lap. That differs from how NASCAR sets the field, which is by the previous timing linean arbitrary point on the track where cars are scored.

Thats how NASCAR would decide the title, should doomsday happen before the last lap, when results would instead be determined by running order at the time of the caution. But calling it doomsday doesnt mean that NASCAR is all but ruling out the possibility of the four drivers wrecking.

Its not that far fetched, a NASCAR spokesperson said. I doubt it would happen early, but if you look at the last few years, the championship four have been pretty much stacked together at the end there.

Wed go to the previous [completed lap], and if its the white flag, wed use all available resources [to determine the title leader at the time of caution].

Should the title decision come down to that determination in a caution outside of the last lap, the champion may not be decided by running order at the time of the wreck. The champion would be the one who was out front at the start-finish line at the end of the last completed lap, which could be vastly different.

(Update: A NASCAR spokesperson originally said the finishing order would be determined by the previous scoring loop should this wreck happen before the last lap, which is how NASCAR determines running order for a caution. NASCAR has since corrected this, saying the finishing order would be determined by the running order at the end of the last completed lap.)

The spokesperson said even if there was strong backlash against this type of championship ruling, he doubts the sanctioning body would look at changing the rules that govern individual races the following year.

In The Instance Of An Encumbered Finish

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