I’m going to try and type the next few sentances with a straight face. If reports are to be believed, a number of huge tweaks are being planned for the Chase system. The main idea being floated is a scheme involving wins to qualify, elimination formats and a winner-takes-all showdown in the final race. Yes, you heard that right. And no, you’ve not gone on the NFL or WWE page by mistake.
Let’s analyse the mooted changes – Where do we even start with the problems in such a ludicrous scheme?
First we have the change to Chase qualification – only 16 drivers with race wins will qualify, irrespective of points positions. So essentially a driver running start-and-park can win ONE race (which is possible on plate tracks, where anyone is a possible winner), then sit back and finish 36th for 25 races and STILL have a shot at the Championship. Whereas drivers having a solid season, finishing top-10 every week and running well in points, would be out on their ear. Can you see the logic? I can’t.
The elimination format – which would see the bottom four drivers eliminated after Chase races 3, 6 and 9- is largely irrelevant. But the idea of having the final four drivers’ points reset for the final round and make it winner-takes-all is just about the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard in motor racing. It’s almost as stupid as awarding double points for the final race…oh, wait.
Let’s just speculate here – a mid-pack driver happens to win a race. They then ride around averaging 20th for the rest of the regular season. Then they manage to avoid the eliminations – technically they are miles behind the top three in points, but never mind. Third place driver hits mechanical problems, the top two are involved in a wreck, and suddenly having done barely anything all season, this mediocre driver is your new Sprint Cup Champion.
The new system will leave too much to chance, and will reward luck and one moment of good driving rather than the best across a whole season. Why should fans go to races 1-35, if it will all count for zilch? May as well switch off and tune in again in September. And you thought NASCAR had a headache trying to resolve the whole ‘cheating’ fiasco after Richmond last year? That’s nothing compared to the can of worms that will be opened if this system comes into place. If the Chase was already making a mockery of NASCAR, this takes it out the back and puts a gun to its head.
The reason given as to why we have a Chase system in the first place was because according to some, Matt Kenseth’s 2003 Winston Cup victory – where he lead the standings all season long despite only winning one race – was boring and warranted change. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember fans being up in arms about this? Yeah, it wasn’t the most exciting season, but the racing was high quality and fans had no problem with the eventual victor – because he was the best across a season. You want to reward winning more? Award more points for first place. But no, that’s too simple a solution – let’s instead butcher over fifty years of history and legend with a meat cleaver in the name of chasing a quick buck.
The truth is, Brian France is running NASCAR purely as an accountant. He sees the NFL gaining huge crowds and TV money, partially due to its playoff system and the Super Bowl, and somehow thinks that if he copies that system in NASCAR, it’ll mean even more dollars for him and the sponsors. And the drivers coming out in support of this plan are also making the same mistake – ‘it works for the Super Bowl, why not NASCAR?’.
Because NASCAR is not football. It’s not a ball sport. It is a motorsport.
Motorsport is not 1 team vs 1 in knockout formats. It is 43 individuals, backed up by teams of engineers, fighting at high-speed in gladiatorial combat across a season. And by the end of it, only the best driver with the most stamina and skill can take the ultimate prize. Egos are battered, reputations destroyed; it’s survival of the fittest, the most primal of human instincts. And the fans are fans of the sport first, their driver second. They are intrinsically different to ball sports fans, so trying to chase those fans to the detriment of the true motorsport fans is absolute fallacy.
NASCAR is suffering an identity crisis; desperately grabbing ideas from other sports and wiping out its own identity. Trying to spin such changes with phrases like ‘a sport that stands still is a sport that falls behind’ is just laughable. No, NASCAR, a sport that changes every five seconds to try and fit in with the cool crowd is a sport that is, as Bob Pockrass called it, desperate and insecure.
Hey Mr France, why not fix the real issues in the sport? The spiraling costs, where drivers, manufacturers and sponsors are slowly being priced out of the sport? The tumbling attendances and empty grandstands that the TV cameras try to avoid at every race? The chronic lack of personalities in the garage area? The systematic erasure of the very grass-roots of the sport?
Why not fix the biggest problem of all – the awful quality of racing? Even the drivers have had enough of boring aero-dependant cars that get loose and spin out if you even go near another car. Rubbin’ is racin’? Not in the Gen-6 it isn’t. It’s blindingly obvious what needs to be resolved, and it could easily be done. And that’s all the fans want, ultimately – exciting racing every week.
But NASCAR stubbornly refuses to do so. They claimed to be fixing the Gen-6, but in reality have just added even more aero emphasis, which I fear will only make the racing even worse. But that sums up NASCAR in a nutshell. It’s too much to ask for them to admit they made a mistake. So instead it’s easier to pay lip service to the fans whilst continuing to blunder down this increasingly hopeless path of gimmicks and PR hype.
Dress it up whatever you want, but you can’t pull the wool over the eyes of millions of fans. And farcical gimmicks like this will only hasten the demise of one of the world’s greatest motorsports.