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Four races remain in the NASCAR Cup Series season, and Chase Elliott will have his hands full keeping ahead of the pack. There are also four races left in the Formula 1 season, and Max Verstappen will have all he can handle just to stay interested.

Verstappen clinched his second straight World Drivers’ Championship Sunday by winning a rain-shortened race in Japan. It gave the Dutch star an insurmountable, 388-253 lead over teammate Sergio Perez. Verstappen and Perez should wrap up the Constructors’ Championship for Red Bull Racing when F1 resumes action in two weeks at Circuit of the Americas.

That race, followed by Formula 1 clashes in Mexico, Brazil, and Abu Dhabi, is meaningless. Sure, the fans will show up and the competition will be intense, but that doesn’t make the races any less meaningless with respect to determining the championship.

Max Verstappen has wrapped up the Formula 1 title with four races left. The NASCAR championship will come down to the final race in November.  | Clive Rose/Getty Images
Max Verstappen has wrapped up the Formula 1 title with four races left. The NASCAR championship will come down to the final race in November. | Clive Rose/Getty Images

That brings us to the Cup Series. Many NASCAR fans pine for the days when cumulative points from the nine-month grind rather than the Championship 4 race at the end of the schedule settled the title. And there’s a reasonable case to be made for that.

Season-long excellence should be rewarded, and the 10-race playoff format doesn’t so much as guarantee that the best driver over those two-plus months leaves with the trophy. Never mind being sure that the best driver over 36 races earns the championship.

However, the playoff format does guarantee there’s value to all 36 races, particularly those at the end of the schedule. Winning once in the regular season just about clinches a playoff berth, and winning multiple times allows a driver to pile up valuable points they’ll carry through the playoffs.

The playoff format has ended the possibility of a driver wrapping up the Cup Series with two or three races left. When NASCAR made the decision to roll out playoffs, creating a sense of urgency every week for drivers and fans was a crucial objective.

No less significantly, NASCAR was protecting corporate partners, team sponsors, and the television networks. There’s no plausible scenario in which fans continue showing up at tracks in the usual numbers or watching on TV on late-October Sundays if the championship has been decided already, and they could be watching NFL games instead.


Chase Elliott’s Road to the NASCAR Championship 4 Is Now a Very Short Drive

As often happens during the season, Sunday’s last laps at the Charlotte Roval were messy and intense. The majority of the 11 drivers who hadn’t already advanced to the round of eight were desperate, and that led to drama. Daniel Suarez was looking for answers to problems with his power steering. Kyle Larson busted a toe link. Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric were trying to claw their way above the cut line, and Christopher Bell knew winning was his only option.

It was good stuff, even if a lot of Larson fans went to bed disappointed and longing for the days of the old championship format.

But don’t despair, Larson fans; it could be worse. You could be a Lewis Hamilton or Charles Leclerc fan. Verstappen certainly ruined a month of Sundays for them.

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