Now we get to the good part.
Last week’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover, Del., eliminated four playoff drivers – Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, and Austin Dillon . That leaves 12. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson ... they’re all still alive.
And now they’re going to go straight at each other.
The thing is, while the playoffs have been going on for three races, the drama that comes in the later stages hasn’t been there. Think of it this way: The first round of the NBA playoffs are great and all, but after a while you get bored with watching No. 1 seeds beat up on teams just sneaking in.
NASCAR’s the same way. Drivers such as Kahne and Dillon were in the playoffs in the first place by virtue of their singular wins. Their driving the rest of the season was too irregular, too streaky to truly compete for a championship. In much the same way the Portland Trail Blazers were never going to defeat the Golden State Warriors, Kahne was never going to beat Truex for a championship.
But now we’re through to the next round, and this is where things pick up. This is when we get the sport’s heavy hitters going head to head, or bumper to bumper in their case.
It’s also the part of the postseason when upsets become possible, and who doesn’t love a good upset? Take last season, for example. Truex was one of the championship favorites all year, but some poor showings in the first round dropped him down in the standings. He ended up not making the third round, even though his car was among the faster ones.
There’s no one now who appears to be an upset victim in the making– the leaders throughout the season (such as Truex, Kyle Larson, and Kyle Busch, to name a few) are still cruising – but if there was going to be a dramatic shakeup on the leaderboard, now is the time.
With Charlotte and Kansas City, with wild-card Talladega sandwiched between them on the menu for the next three races, there’s plenty of moving still to be done.
This is the part of the playoffs where things start to get interesting. This is the part of the playoffs when fan favorites start to miss the cut.
This is the part of the playoffs where if you haven’t been watching, it’s time to tune in.
All that, of course, and our championship picture crystallizes a lot more.