OPINION: NASCAR's Chase Has Jumped The Shark

Jan 30, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; NASCAR president Mike Helton (left) and NASCAR chief executive officer Brian France (right) address the media on the state of the sport during the Sprint Media Tour at the Charlotte Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Last week you’ll remember I wrote an article pleading with Brian France for no more gimmicks.

Obviously he wasn’t listening.

The phrase ‘jumping the shark’ is a TV trope referring to the moment a TV series falls into decline with ridiculous storylines and gimmicks. With the announcement on Thursday that only wins will count to qualify for the Chase, elimination formats during the Chase, and a winner-takes-all showdown for Homestead, NASCAR has officially jumped the shark. It is no longer a credible motorsport series.

Fans across the world watched the announcement with jaws on the floor, thinking ‘surely this can’t be happening?’

Yes it is. And it pains me to have to say that.

Firstly, the only way to guarantee a spot in the Chase is to win a race. And there will be 16 Chase berths, it’s highly likely you’ll only need one win. Way to emphasise winning being more important. Someone wins one race, what’s his motivation to go and win another? So one win in a regular season could lead someone to a championship – I can’t think where that’s happened before. Oh wait…

Secondly, four drivers will be eliminated after Chase races three, six and nine – and if you win a race you automatically advance to the next round. What the hell is this, The Apprentice? So we’re not just ripping off ideas from the NFL now, but from reality TV?

Thirdly, the final four drivers will have their points reset at the final round in Homestead – winner will take all. Yes, all pretence has been abandoned; France wants his very own Super Bowl. Game 7.  All traditions that shape motorsport – endurance, grit, determination, stamina across a gruelling season – have been abandoned, to be replaced by, let’s be honest, luck.

Sep 14, 2013; Joliet, IL, USA; A display showing the names of the thirteen Chase drivers including Jeff Gordon (not pictured) added in tape as seen in the garage area during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice for the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

The NASCAR I know is dead, having commited hari-kiri in the pursuit of dollars and fans of stick and ball sports.

It was on shaky ground after the Chase first arrived in 2004. Then came the stupid COT in 2007. Then the Chase expanded to 12 drivers. Then the bottom two actually could finish as low as 20th in points but still get in if they won a race. And still attendances dwindled.

Feb 24, 2013; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth (20) leads the field to the tri-oval during the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The Gen-6 was meant to be the magic bullet that arrested the decline. Instead, it was even WORSE than the COT to drive. Cars spun out when they went near each other, and most races – including the illustrious Daytona 500 – became single-file parades. For a series which prides itself on exciting, close, high-octane racing, this was like four hours of Chinese water torture every week.

Fixes needed to be made. Simple fixes like ‘remove the Chase’. And ‘fix the Gen-6′.

But no. That would be a) too simple and b) require Brian France and his cohorts to admit that they got something wrong. Or to have any brains.

When tweaks were first announced this year to the Chase format, they promised that they had listened to fans. Judging by the extremely negative reaction, I’d love to know what ‘fans’ he actually talked to. Ceiling fans?

There are those claiming it will generate excitement and make Homestead a must-see race. And they have a point. There will be those who enjoy this format and enjoy the tension. But it’s fake, contrived, manufactured excitement. You can’t fake out fans. You can’t shout in their faces ‘LOOK AT HOW EXCITING THIS IS OH MY GOD ARE YOU EXCITED YET?! ARE YOU?!’

The ‘Game 7 moments’ France is desperately trying to crowbar into his sport work in stick and ball sports largely because there are two teams going head-to-head for glory. When the four drivers take to the track at Homestead to compete for the title, they will still have 39 other cars on the track around them, any one of whom could knock out a title contender by accident. And let’s not even go into the potential levels of cheating and ‘race manipulation’ that surely will occur under this new system. You thought 2013 was bad? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Motorsport fans watch a title battle unfold organically. Whatever happens, the best driver across the season is rewarded for his superior skill and determination with glory.

They will refuse to acknowledge a champion who has been gifted the trophy by an arbitrary resetting of points every five seconds. They will refuse to acknowledge a championship which could’ve been more fairly decided by rolling dice. Or throwing darts at a wall.

Nov 17, 2013; Homestead, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson hoists the Sprint Cup championship trophy after the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Mr France, please listen to me. NASCAR has a religiously devoted fanbase who love the sport for what it is. Who turn up to every single race, plastered in their favourite drivers’ merchandise, and who will watch every race on TV. Who built your sport from grassroots beginnings. But I guess they don’t matter, do they?

What is your fixation in trying to chase after fickle, fairweather fans? The kind of people who only tune in during the commercial breaks in the baseball, and get bored after five minutes because no-one’s crashed? Who won’t ever spend fortunes on diecasts, t-shirts, jackets and signs supporting their favourite driver and their favourite sport in the world?

In trying to chase these non-fans, you have done almost irreversible damage to the tradition, reputation and credibility of one of the world’s biggest motorsports – with emphasis on MOTOR. Because motorsport is unique, and special, and an event unlike anything else in the world.

And the tragic irony to all this is that France could win back all his lost fans, and gain many more, if he simply removed the Chase and focused on making the Gen-6 a racecar that can be driven hard and side-by-side – like the old Gen-4. Fans want raw, visceral excitement from the quality of racing, not contrived ‘Game 7′ moments more out of place than a flamethrower in a woodworking class.

But I guess when all you understand is bank balances and dollar signs, that’s a hard concept to get your head around.

Never mind, at least you’ve got us all really looking forward to the start of the new season.

The new V8 Supercars season, which starts March 2nd.

Tags: Beyond The Flag Brian France Chase For The Sprint Cup NASCAR NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Cup Series

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