On Tuesday, NASCAR officials expanded the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series playoff field from eight drivers to 10, a move that goes into effect for the 2020 season.
The Gander Trucks postseason schedule will remain at seven races, but the expansion will alter the elimination format that pares drivers from championship eligibility. That structure will now feature:
Three races in the Round of 10, after which two drivers will be eliminated.
Three races in the Round of 8, after which four drivers will be eliminated.
The Championship 4 finale, which will determine the series champion Nov. 6 at Phoenix Raceway.
The playoff format previously followed an opening Round of 8, another three races in the Round of 6 and the Championship 4. Brad Moran, managing director for the Gander Trucks Series, said that the emergence of more top-level teams and the heightened degree of competition made the decision to increase the playoff field a natural one.
“The way the format was structured in the Gander Truck Series with the Round of 8, Round of 6, Round of 4, we were leaving some excitement on the table,” Moran said. “Maybe three or four years ago, not so much, but certainly the last couple of years with the series strengthening to the position it’s in right now, we really felt putting 10 teams into the playoffs for a Round of 10 is just going to make it that much more exciting and interesting, and will put a lot of emphasis on winning races, which is what we try to do.”
NASCAR introduced eliminations to the Cup Series playoffs in the 2014 season. Similar formats followed for the Xfinity Series and Gander Trucks two years later. The Cup Series postseason field features 16 drivers; 12 drivers qualify for the Xfinity Series playoffs each year.
Moran said that competition officials had been weighing a potential expansion by comparing final standings from previous seasons, ultimately arriving at a 10-driver field for the Gander Trucks tour. It also provides some late-season cohesion: Now all three national series will feature a Round of 8 that cuts the playoff fields in half before the championship finales.
“It seemed like the right number,” Moran said. “We only start 32 trucks, we have a great group of owners, and we did not want to water down our playoffs, but the two additional trucks kind of changes the whole layout. It changes the whole ecosystem of the playoffs. People are going to be that much more aggressive to get one of those 10 spots, and it does marry up with the other two series when we get to the Round of 8.”
Moran said that NASCAR competition officials analyzed past seasons before opting to expand the field, but cautioned that the decision was not a hasty reaction to last year’s regular-season outcome. ThorSport talent Ben Rhodes was the first driver to miss out on the playoffs, and rising stars Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland — both drivers for highly regarded Kyle Busch Motorsports — also surprisingly failed to make the cut. All three are NASCAR Next alumni.
“That has nothing to do with it,” Moran said. “Last time I checked, KBM won an owner’s championship this year, so no, that had nothing to do with our thinking. (Expansion) has been talked about internally since the beginning of last year, and we just didn’t want to jump the gun on doing it. We have a good solid footing in this series now and the strength of the series is really the deciding factor of why to do this.”
Like the other two national circuits, the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series features a shuffled 2020 playoff schedule that’s among NASCAR’s most varied. Both the first and last races in the playoffs are new: The postseason opens at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway and ends at Phoenix Raceway, host to all three series’ finales for the first time.
The 2020 schedule remains unchanged for the newly expanded playoffs:
Round of 10: Gateway (Aug. 21), Canadian Tire (Sept. 6), Bristol (Sept. 17)
Round of 8: Las Vegas (Sept. 25), Talladega (Oct. 3), Martinsville (Oct. 30)
Championship 4: Phoenix (Nov. 6).
“We really felt it was good for the ownership of the trucks, for the owners, for their sponsors. The time was right,” Moran said. “It’s going to add more excitement for the fans watching, and it’s giving everyone the opportunity so it should put the intensity level for our playoffs off the charts.”
The only reason why the case for this is questionable is, almost every full time driver would be eligible. In 2019, 12 drivers ran full time seasons. While the numbers could be up for 2020, it’s still questionable to allow over 70-80 percent of the field to make the postseason.