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NASCAR Cup Charlotte II

Denny Hamlin: Cup playoffs "a game of chance" in 2024 schedule

Denny Hamlin is not a fan of the “winner takes all” championship race format in the NASCAR Cup series and the changes to the 2024 schedule only add to his frustration.

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, FedEx Express Toyota Camry

NASCAR earlier this week finally announced the completed 2024 Cup schedule. While the new schedule features just one new venue – a June race at the Iowa Speedway short track – there are some significant race date changes that will impact the way the series determines its champion.

The biggest changes come in the type of tracks which comprise the 10-race playoffs which determine the series champion.

Out are the intermediate tracks of Darlington and Texas – although both remain on the schedule – and replacing them in the playoffs are Atlanta and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.

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The additions mean the 2024 series champion will have to navigate two superspeedway/drafting tracks and two road courses to reach the championship race at Phoenix.

And that doesn’t sit well with Hamlin, who has 51 career wins but has yet to win a championship.

“Obviously, I don’t like it,” Hamlin, 42, told a small group of reporters. “I think you continue, you know, to make this a game a chance. One of the common quotes that you’ll hear from leadership is that ‘We like to test our drivers.’

“That’s silly. You’re testing their luck. You’re not testing their skill. We like to cut the sample size smaller and smaller every single year.

“I think this year, already having our regular season champ (Martin Truex Jr.) almost knocked out (in the first round), surely a year like next year should get the job done.”

More about luck than skill?

Darlington on Labor Day Weekend will now be the final race in which a driver can qualify for the 16-race playoffs next year and the playoffs will kick off at Atlanta, which now races like a superspeedway.

That means a first round of Atlanta, followed by Watkins Glen and then Bristol – offering a very tricky opening trio of races.

It gets no easier in the second round, which will now feature Kansas, Talladega and the Charlotte Roval. The semifinal round (Round of 8) remains the same with Las Vegas, Homestead-Miami and Martinsville.

“It’s not all about luck once you get into the Round of 8. I think the difference is in my mind, I am not a believer in one race take all (championship). I just think that sample size is just entirely too low,” the driver of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 11 Toyota explained.

“I could give you a results sheet from someone in these playoffs that finishes 12th, 12th, 13th, 13th, 12th, 12th, 13th, 13, 13th, 1st and they’re the champion over a guy who runs 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 1st and 2nd (in the championship race).

“That just doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s probably sour grapes coming from me but the sample size, we just continue to shrink it. They call it the championship round but it’s not even a round – it’s a 10-second bell. You got to get in all the hits you can as quick as you can.”

Even with a two-week break built into next year’s schedule because NBC will broadcast the 2024 Summer Olympics, Hamlin believes it was possible to avoid the chaotic first rounds that have been created for the playoffs.

“There’s a way to do it. There’s a way to fix it given the tracks we’ve got but I don’t know that NASCAR really cares about that part of it,” he said.

“I don’t think they care about what strain it brings on the teams to have multiple superspeedway (races) back-to-back to start the season, what travel we have to do in the beginning (of the year).

“None of that really matters. It’s about dollars and cents.”

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