Just because Denny Hamlin pitched it doesn’t mean it’s a dumb idea.
How’s that for a ringing endorsement?
A lot of NASCAR fans like to pick on Denny, partly because he says a lot of things with his mouth, and also isn’t afraid to speak with his bumper.
When he admitted to wrecking Ross Chastain several weeks ago, got penalized for it, then appealed and suggested his admission shouldn’t be evidence … well, that might’ve been Peak Denny’s. In a roundabout way, I was reminded of the time Charles Barkley was claimed to be misquoted in his own autobiography.
But as one of today’s elder statesmen within the garage area, and a guy with a finger on the business/marketing pulse of today’s sports-entertainment industry, he often comes off as well-thought-out and, dare I say, brilliant?
In this instance, yes. Brilliant.
This past week, he pitched the idea of a single-elimination tournament, played consecutively out within the confines of five Cup Series races on five weekends. At a designated cut-off point in the schedule, the top 32 drivers — via the point standings — get on the bracket for a five-week run that starts with Driver 1 vs. 32, Drivers 2 vs. 31, Drivers 3 vs. 30, etc., with 16 surviving for the next week, 8 for the following week, and so on.
Within each race, whichever driver finishes ahead of the other in each head-to-head matchup, survives and moves on.
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Easy does it, Jethro, I’ve done the math. Week 5 would indeed include the final matchup of two surviving racers.
As for the idea of a race within a race, NASCAR already does this within the playoffs, where Drivers A and B might be racing for the win while Drivers C and D are duking it out to advance to the next playoff round. And even in the championship final, the four surviving playoff drivers are racing against each other within the walls of a “normal” full-field race.
Look for this to be given serious consideration.
This year we get the buzz, which Hamlin ignited on his weekly podcast last week. Some media folks — including our guy Ryan Pritt, who can’t resist a sexy bracket — have already taken the current 1-through-32 seedings, created the head-to-heads for this week at Dover, and will follow it through the early-June race in St. Louis.
If this little spark takes hold and grows even modest legs in the coming weeks, don’t be surprised if one of the Boys in Marketing takes the idea, tweaks it just enough to call it his own, and pitches it to NASCAR’s newly official fantasy sports partner, PrizePicks.
Hamlin’s idea included a potential prize fund, including a $3 million payout to the event winner, enough money to get everyone’s attention and spark the weekly effort. Gone are the days, I reckon, where a measly million bucks turned heads.
Prize money would be raised through additional sponsorships, we assume, so no one, including NASCAR, would be on the hook for payouts.
The various gambling sites would definitely jump on it and help promote the whole thing — part of NASCAR’s genius has always been those corporate tie-ins that create promotional partners, from grocery aisles to the NAPA stores to, yep, all those gambling apps.
Fox Sports would obviously help with the hype, hoping to spur ratings with a new toy.
“During this caution break, let’s go to Larry Mac for a look at the bracket …”
And since American sports fans love the bracket, and crave a little monetary action, you’re sure to get a few more viewers than you might otherwise. In the summer, by the way — a time of year, as Hamlin pointed out, where NASCAR should be drawing additional TV viewers due to the relative lack of competition.
So if this becomes “a thing” in the coming weeks, even if only within the walls of the NASCAR fandom, don’t be shocked to hear more about it sometime in the future.
Yes, it could also fade quickly and march to the graveyard of passing thoughts. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
— Reach Ken Willis at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: NASCAR bracket? Is Denny Hamlin’s tournament idea a good one? You bet!