AVONDALE, Ariz. – What a bitter, bitter way for William Byron to end what will likely be his only full-time campaign in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Byron blew a motor while leading Friday night at Phoenix Int’l Raceway, and as his engine went up in smoke, so did his chance to advance into the final round of the Truck Series’ Chase, and with it his hopes of a championship.
Now, the series will go to Homestead-Miami in one week’s time, and the driver who has won the most races and scored the most points out of anyone in the Truck Series will not win the series title.
He won’t even have a chance to, thanks to the elimination-style Chase system implemented prior to the start of this season that cruelly turned his year upside down in one fell swoop on Friday night.
It’s a travesty, really.
Now, to be fair: one of the trucks and one of the drivers that will win the championship will be very good. Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter, Timothy Peters and Byron’s Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Christopher Bell have been four of the most consistent drivers in the Truck Series this season.
But if you asked the garage who the best team and driver have been all season in the Truck Series, I doubt that they would say anything other than Byron and his No. 9 team.
In fact, Crafton and Peters both referenced how tough it was to watch Byron go out of the race, and that they were both disappointed to not have a shot to race him for the championship.
In effect, one race undermined a season’s worth of work by Byron and his team.
And therein lies the most quintessential crux of this Chase format: it increases the chances for drama in the run for the championship, but it can also rob people who should win the championship of a title.
Not that there is immediately anything wrong with the Chase, at least immediately.
It has, in recent years, actually been a good thing for NASCAR. (Kyle Busch’s championship last season and Tony Stewart’s title run in 2011 are two very good examples.)
But this is also something that can backfire on NASCAR. And at this moment, it’s very hard to see the events that have transpired in the desert as a good thing, especially when the way in which Byron was so successful this season is considered.
This isn’t just a disappointment because Byron was better than everyone else this season. This is a disappointment because Byron was significantly better than anyone else, to the point where he was flat-out dominant.
So here we are, in a position where William Byron should be the 2016 Camping World Truck Series champion, but won’t be.
Ironically, though, it is not immediately a bad thing that Byron won’t be the champion. As is, he is simply a byproduct of the Chase system: someone who will lose while others will win.
But Byron’s heartache does need to be recorded so we can look back on it in the future, because the balance of who benefits and who is hurt by the Chase will ultimately determine the Chase’s success in the long-term.
So long as that balance stays even, it makes the Chase viable. If it ever falters too much towards one side or the other, the Chase becomes a failure.
It is in the Chase’s best interest if it produces champions who would have won (or come close to winning), because the old points system ensured with about 95% certainty that the best driver and team of the season would win the title, save for a few odd exceptions.
Had Byron’s magical season taken place as recently as last year, he would have been the champion.
This is ultimately why Byron’s case is better as an exception, and not the norm. It is okay if cases like these appear every once in a while.
But it is in NASCAR’s best interest that it does not happen often.
Unfortunately for William, the lightning bolt of bad luck struck one time too many on Friday night, where ‘not often’ ended up being just often enough to end his title dreams one race too soon.
And that does leave a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth as the lights fade in the Arizona night.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, the Performance Motorsports Network, Scorpion Radio Group, their sponsors or other contributors.
About the Writer
James Pike is a multi-faceted reporter for Race Chaser Online and an analyst on the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
He is the lead correspondent for Race Chaser Online’s coverage of Australian Supercars and also covers regional touring series events in the Carolinas. He is a graduate of the Motorsports Management program at Belmont Abbey College and currently resides in Winston-Salem, N.C.
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