The 85th version did the trick.
NASCAR officials had to revise the 2020 Cup Series schedule 85 times due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Sunday’s Season Finale 500 at Phoenix Raceway will mark the 36th and final race of the year, though. The sport overcame a nine-week, eight-race postponement only to finish out the season as originally planned.
“I think each champion has their own asterisk next to them,” Brad Keselowski said Thursday during Championship 4 Media Day. “You know, each championship is won in its own unique way. It’s hard to say which ones mean more and which ones mean less.
“You can argue the formats play into that. You can argue external circumstances, like COVID-19, play into that. You can certainly argue that rules packages on the cars play into that. It’s really hard, I think, to quantify championships and maybe their difficult level or their earned level with everything that goes on over the course of a year or season.”
Keselowski is a member of Championship 4. Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott complete the quartet. They’re the only drivers eligible for the title.
The 10-race playoff slate remained untouched during NASCAR’s schedule revisions, which was a priority for the sanctioning body, and it did not disappoint. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who’s retiring from full-time competition at the end of the season, did not qualify for the postseason’s opening Round of 16. Reigning Cup Series titleholder Kyle Busch was eliminated from contention after the Round of 12, yet won his first race of the season in the Round of 8. Nine-time 2020 winner Kevin Harvick missed the Championship 4 by eight points despite entering the final elimination race with a 42-point buffer.
“There’s a trophy at the end of the day,” Logano said. “We all had to go to the same amount of races. We all had the same opportunity to score points and wins. The rules didn’t change in the middle of the year.”
Rules, no. Schedule, yes.
NASCAR implemented midweek races and doubleheaders to make up for lost time. It also scratched practice and qualifying in order to limit at-track exposure to one day.
No exceptions were made for the championship.
“It takes a lot of pieces away from the puzzle, right?” Elliott said. “I don’t know that it’s good or bad. I mean, if you start the race on Sunday and your car’s off, dang, I wish we had some practice; I wish we could have fixed this on Friday or Saturday. If you start the race on Sunday, your car is driving good, then no, you’re probably happy with not having any. I think it comes down to whether or not you hit your balance close to the race.”
Said Hamlin: “It’s different, but we’ve adapted all year. It won’t hurt us to adapt for one more week.”
One more week. One more race. Then, that’s it.
The 2020 season may have been unorthodox, but it was a complete season nonetheless and therefore deserves a champion.
“The reality is the championship is just that: It’s a culmination of work and effort that’s led up to an overall title,” Keselowski said. “And in that sense, I don’t want to undermine it.”