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ANDERS: Larson's luck shows downside of playoffs

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Jordan Anders

NASCAR Kansas Auto Race
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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, October 29, 2017

There are still four weeks left until we know who is crowned the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.

We do already know who it won't be, and that list grew to include one season-long favorite in last week's cutoff race at Kansas Speedway.

When Kyle Larson was felled by a blown engine, it eliminated one of the teams that most had penciled in to the Championship 4 at Homestead. Larson has had a career year with four wins and has had perhaps the most consistent speed all year of anyone not named Martin Truex Jr., so to see him fall by the wayside as the championship field was trimmed to eight was the biggest surprise of the playoffs.

Larson's soured engine had barely even cooled before NASCAR Twitter (which can be the absolute best and worst sort of Twitter) erupted with cries of how his misfortune was the key flaw in NASCAR's playoff system. Here is a team that has shown itself to absolutely be worthy of contending for a championship, eliminated because of one fluky failure that just happened to come in a race that was pivotal for setting up the next round.

It truly is a bummer to see a guy and a team that has been so good all year knocked out of title contention because something went awry under the hood, which is virtually unheard of among power teams nowadays because of the dependability of the equipment, and that possibility is the one downside of this playoff system.

But the possibility that the best team, or one of the best teams, doesn't get the chance to win a title is nothing new in sports. The elimination rules are clear, and Larson's team had the same opportunity as the other 11 teams vying for a spot in the Round of 8 to amass enough points to overcome last week's misfortune.

Perhaps it's an apples-to-oranges comparison, but Larson's plight, to me, is no different than a college basketball team suffering an injury during the NCAA tournament and getting tripped up in the Sweet 16. It's a downer and you would like to see the best teams competing for a championship at the end, but with an elimination format, that's the hand they're dealt.

At 25, Larson will have plenty of chances at a championship. They may even continue to come with Chip Ganassi Racing, which I would not have expected myself to be saying just a couple of short years ago. That team seems to have built itself into a legitimate title contender.

Larson isn't the first to be unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs due to bad luck. Truex, who is looking more and more like this year's favorite to be champion by the day, had the same issue happen a year ago, when a blown engine in an elimination race at Talladega ended his title hopes.

William Byron had won six Truck Series races going into the penultimate race last year at Phoenix, where he had an engine let go and finished 27th. That kept him out of the Championship 4 at Homestead, where he went and earned a race win that would have made him champion were he eligible.

Whether you like this format or not, it's here to stay and provides weekly drama as guys try to advance. With it comes the possibility of an instance like what happened to Larson, whose championship hopes literally went up in smoke.

It's unfortunate, but sports have never been 100 percent fair and I don't see them starting to be anytime soon.

PREDICTION

The title favorites are becoming clear, but there's one guy trying to inject himself into that discussion who could use a win today at Martinsville. His team isn't the hottest right now, but he's pretty good at Martinsville. He's won there nine times. PICK: Jimmie Johnson

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

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