As NASCAR negotiates a new media rights deal, everyone is looking for ways to maximize ratings to get maximum value. In recent years, NASCAR moved races to more TV-friendly time slots while having a more diverse schedule to improve ratings. NASCAR now races inside a stadium, on dirt, and in the streets of Chicago.
Denny Hamlin has his own idea to increase ratings. He revealed this on his Actions Detrimental podcast, pointing out that he told NASCAR this idea over 18 months ago.
Hamlin wants a midseason single elimination 32-driver tournament that spans five weeks during the summer. After 10 races, the top 32 in points are seeded, and each matchup’s winner advances. The winner gets a big cash prize and/or playoff points. Hamlin suggested “$3 million for the winner.”
In Hamlin’s mind, this will bring added attention during the summer, when baseball is the only “big four” sport taking place. For that to work, you would need to start the tournament after race 15 so it goes from mid-June to mid-July.
On top of that, Hamlin pointed out the storylines created due to certain matchups taking place. That would come with broadcasters and media breaking down those matchups and predicting who wins. Sportsbooks could create betting lines for each matchup and the tournament winner.
For the sake of discussion, I went back to last season and mapped out how this tournament would have gone if NASCAR did this. At the end of race 10 at Talladega, the top 32 in points went to Dover, then the top 16 to Darlington, Kansas, Charlotte, and Gateway for the final.
This isn’t a perfect scenario. Drivers and teams would’ve raced differently had they known there was a tournament with a big cash prize for the winner. But there were some interesting observations:
-Ross Chastain (No. 9) and Denny Hamlin (No. 24) would have gone against each other in the first round.
-Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 31) finished second at Dover last year. That would’ve been a monumental first-round upset over Ryan Blaney (No. 2).
-Three first-round matchups were decided by fewer than two positions from 20th on back. William Byron (No. 3) finished 22nd, while Harrison Burton (No. 30) finished 24th. Todd Gilliland (No. 27) upset Joey Logano (No. 6) by finishing one spot ahead in 28th. And Tyler Reddick (No. 15) finished 30th, one spot ahead of Kurt Busch (No. 18).
-Michael McDowell (No. 23) upset Kyle Larson (No. 7) in the round of 16 at Darlington.
-The semifinal four consisted of Martin Truex Jr. (No. 8) and Chase Briscoe (No. 12) in one matchup. Christopher Bell (No. 14) and Michael McDowell (No. 23) squared off in the second matchup.
-Bell, finishing ninth, defeated Briscoe, who finished 24th, in the final at Gateway.
There are a lot of storylines to take from this if it happened last year. Chastain vs. Hamlin would be discussed the entire week leading up to Dover. Stenhouse would be the talk of the NASCAR world after Dover for his upset. We would’ve potentially seen someone get bumped out of the way for 28th place. Michael McDowell as the Cinderella would have given him and Front Row Motorsports publicity and a chance at a monumental payday.
This probably needs a tweak or two. As I said, maybe you need to move the tournament to after race 15 to have it in the summer. But I like this idea. It doesn’t disrupt the championship, people are still getting points and trying to make the playoffs. But this is an added wrinkle that gives fans, broadcasters, and media something to discuss, and teams and drivers to compete for.