When NASCAR introduced its own version of a playoff system in 2004, few imagined the concept would eventually find its way to the short tracks of the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series.
Last November, Hickory Motor Speedway general manager Kevin Piercy announced the track would utilize its own playoff format to determine a track champion in the headlining Late Model Stock Car division.
The announcement caught the attention of several competitors, including veteran Landon Huffman, whose father Robert Huffman is a two-time Hickory Motor Speedway track champion and five-time champion of the NASCAR Goody’s Dash Series.
“The championships here (at Hickory) as of late, there just hasn’t been a lot of cars,” said Huffman, who has been driving for team owner Jason Smith this year. “Most of the time it’s just whichever guy runs all the races wins the championship. For the longest time it wasn’t like that, but for the last couple years it’s been pretty bad. I thought that given it’s unique and different for a short track, I thought it was smart on his (Piercy’s) end.”
To qualify for the Playoffs at Hickory Motor Speedway, drivers had to compete in at least eight regular season Late Model Stock Car events by Aug. 6. Eight drivers hit that benchmark. They are listed below.
- Landon Huffman
- Annabeth Barnes Crum
- Skyler Chaney
- Charlie Watson
- Isabella Robusto
- Matthew Gould
- Bryson Dennis
The playoff field has been reset based on each driver’s position in the regular season standings, with two bonus points added for wins and one bonus point added for poles.
The regular season champion gets 100 points before the addition of bonus points, second starts with 95 points, third gets 90 points, fourth gets 85 points, fifth gets 80 points and all drivers after that start with 75 points.
Huffman was the regular season champion at Hickory and will start the Playoffs with 100 points, plus four points for the two victories he earned during the regular season, for a total of 104 points.
Crum will begin the playoffs with 97 points, Chaney will start with 90 points, Watson will have 87, Robusto will begin with 80, Gould will start with 77 and Dennis will begin with 75.
“We are overwhelmed with the support this new playoff system has garnered from our competitors, and it has met all of our goals and expectations for 2022, with multiple drivers competing for this Championship,” Piercy said.
The four-event playoffs will be run straight up based on Hickory’s traditional point system, plus the addition of the aforementioned bonus points for winning races and poles.
The champion at the end of the Hickory Motor Speedway playoffs will earn $2,000 and the right to be added to the Wall of Champions at the entrance to the grandstands. Huffman has already earned $1,000 as the regular season champion.
“I think that so far we’ve been really competitive,” Huffman said. “There has been a lot good drivers and good cars come through this year. A lot of touring guys and stuff like that. We’ve won twice, but we’ve run well enough to win more than we have, to be honest.
“I’ve finished second five or six times and third another three or four times. It’s not like we haven’t been up there to win. Unfortunately with the playoff format, winning is all that does you any good, and sitting on the pole because that just gives you padding for the playoffs.”
The Hickory Motor Speedway playoffs begin with twin 40-lap features for the Late Model Stock Car class on Aug. 13. Another pair of 40-lap features are set for Aug. 27, followed by the annual running of the Bobby Isaac Memorial 150-lap event on Sept. 3.
Finally, track champions will be crowned Sept. 17 during championship night. The Late Model Stock Car division will headline the night with a 75-lap feature that pays double points.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Huffman said about the Playoffs. “You’ve got a couple gimmicky things thrown in there. We’ve got twins. They do a big invert, so that’s tough because if you have 16 cars with the invert there’s usually just chaos and mayhem.
“The championship night is a 75 lapper, and it’s double points, so anything can happen there. If you have a bad night on championship night, it could really mess up (everything) even if you have a good three weeks to begin with. Then you’ve got the Bobby Isaac Memorial thrown in there. There’s a lot of, I guess, uncertainty when it comes to the last four races.”
In other words, every race matters.
“It’s just like the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs,” Huffman said. “Obviously it’s less of a sudden death (scenario), but one malfunction or you get taken out of one race, and you’re pretty much out of it. It’ll be interesting. Definitely a little more nerve-wracking, but the cream rises to the top when it matters.”
Each race of the Hickory Motor Speedway playoffs will be available to watch live on FloRacing beginning with the twin 40-lap features on Aug. 13.