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NASCAR's "In Season Tournament" Is a Surprisingly Good Addition to the 2025 Slate

The NBA introduced the concept of a soccer-style mid-season tournament for the first time this year, but it did so with lackluster fanfare and only a marginal increase in viewership on average from games in the same slot from the prior year. In the long run, brutal tournament-only uniforms, court designs, and, most importantly, playing for a crown that holds zero weight were likely some key factors that hurt the NBA.

With that in mind, it was a surprise to hear that NASCAR will try an IST variant of its own in 2025, covering the five Turner/TNT races next summer. Based on some initial comments by NASCAR, does this have a chance of being good? Surprisingly, yes.

Winston Million 3.0

Younger NASCAR fans may not be all that familiar with the Winston Million concept, but former series sponsor Winston would dish out a million dollars if a driver could win three out of the following four races in a single season: The Daytona 500, The Coke 600 (the then World 600), The Spring Talladega Race (the then Winston 500), and the Southern 500. In the concept's first stint, just two drivers took home three of the four legs of the 'grand slam': Bill Elliott in the first year (1985) and Jeff Gordon in the final year (1997). Then came the Winston No Bull 5 concept that ran for the next several years, but the modified format would only last five seasons.

In many respects, this IST partially revives the concept of handing out a million bucks to a driver outside of the All-Star Race. Only here, 32 drivers will be placed in a single elimination head-to-head bracket, and after four races, just two will get the opportunity to run for a million-dollar bonus. How do you get in, you may be asking? The three races leading up to the tournament. A driver's best finish is used to sort things, with the two subsequent finishes used as tiebreakers for seeding purposes.

Now, without knowing the 2025 schedule just yet, we don't know what races will ultimately make up the qualifying and main portion of this In Season Tournament, but if we were to go off of this year's slate, it would go like this: Gateway, Sonoma, and Iowa as the qualifying races, then New Hampshire, Nashville, Chicago Street Course, Pocono, and Indianapolis as the official IST races.

Initial Thoughts

I think NASCAR is more than deserving of criticism on the stuff it gets wrong (ruining the short track product in Cup, making bad tracks like Texas and Atlanta significantly worse, moving the finale out of Homestead for it to just stay in Phoenix, etc.) but this is one of those calls based off my initial read that I'm a big fan of. They're not marketing this as a Championship like the NBA did with their IST; this makes a summer filled with largely inconsequential racing notably more interesting, and I wouldn't call a million-dollar prize inconsequential in the world of stock car racing.

I would certainly like to see some tracks in that main five-race run that are unique from each other and that we know can provide good racing, but I wouldn't be against an Indianapolis finale for this. Having one crown jewel outing in this would elevate things, and it would do good for Indy, specifically, which didn't have the best stretch of races before switching to the road course. All in all, NASCAR has caught my attention with this.

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