NASCAR: How To Make The Chase Perfect

So today, I’m going to do something quite unusual. Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy always slating NASCAR. So today, as the Chase for the Sprint Cup 2014 concludes with four drivers going for the title at Homestead this weekend, I’ve decided to stop hurling bile and negativity all about and actually work with this new system to make it better.

I promised in my last article before the Chase began that I would have the humble pie ready if by the end I was convinced that my initial complaints were wrong. Sadly the humble pie can stay in the fridge, but I will admit that this format has delivered on its promise of guaranteeing excitement and thrills in the final season stretch, and although hard racing and fights have always been part and parcel of NASCAR, it would be naïve to say the recent incidents weren’t due in part to the pressure the drivers were under in this new format. So at least it has achieved its stated goal, although I would advise caution on promoting carnage and punch-ups in motor racing, a sport dangerous enough as it is without stoking the fires further.

My biggest problem with this system still remains, and in fact was exemplified last weekend at Phoenix – it is still a rubbish way to decide a motorsports champion. Right here on this site you can see how the regular points table would look with no Chase, and Jeff Gordon would be on to romp to a fifth title ahead of Joey Logano. Whilst Logano remains in with a shot at the title, Jeff Gordon is now unable to win the title. Yet Denny Hamlin – 14th in points – and Ryan Newman – winless all year-long – are in the title battle.  There’s no escaping the fact that it makes a mockery of the achievement of grafting all season long to win a title. It also renders the first 26 races more and more redundant – and when those races include the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and other prestigious races, there’s no better way to devalue the crown jewels of NASCAR.

So myself and head of the NASCAR Fans UK group Kevin Gravenell sat down and thrashed out some ideas – and here’s how we think the Chase for the Sprint Cup 2015 can build on this year’s antics and also rectify the fundamental problems raised.

1. Regular season points leader automatically qualifies for Homestead.

This would reward a strong regular season much better – Jeff Gordon would deservedly be having a shot at the title next week thanks to his strong regular season run. This makes points count for a lot more and a strong regular season isn’t just flushed down the toilet by one bad result mid-Chase.

2. Eliminate points resets during the Chase. 

Effectively this brings the Chase back closer to the previous format in play from 2004-2013. Great performances will not only guarantee your spot in the next round, but could be greatly beneficial to your chances of moving into the round after that also.

3. Award two titles – one for points champion, one for Chase champion.

Now hear me out here. In UK soccer, we have a four-tier league system, with the Premier League at the top, and the team with the most points at the end of the season wins each league. However, we also have the League Cup, where teams from all four tiers of the Football League enter into a straight knockout competition. Theoretically, any team entering the League Cup can progress through each playoff round to the final, regardless of league position, and the great appeal of these competitions is seeing smaller teams from lower leagues taking on – and sometimes beating – the Premier League giants.

See where I’m going with this? What if the overall NASCAR Sprint Cup trophy was awarded to the points champion, and the Chase was a knockout contest alongside to win a separate trophy? Going to this weekend, it would mean we’d still have huge excitement with the four drivers going for winner-takes-all glory in the Chase, but Jeff Gordon would still be rewarded for great driving across the entire season. And if a driver does the double? Well, that’s a piece of history right there, just like if one team wins both the Premier League AND the League Cup.

 

These ideas stay within the current framework of the Chase. Now time for some more radical ideas…

1. Get rid of the Chase altogether and go back to the old system.

Well, I did say radical…but then again that would probably require Brian France to backtrack and admit he was wrong about something. Sorry, wrong tone, not moaning. So how about this:

2. No Chase & 1st place pays 20 more points than 2nd in each race.

This really should’ve been the way to progress forward in the first place – if this had been the idea in 2004, the Chase may never have existed and no-one would have any complaints. This rewards winning adequately enough as well as balancing this with rewarding consistency too. It makes it harder to pull a Matt Kenseth or Newman, winning just one race and romping home to the title, as winning awards such huge amounts of points that 1-2 wins can change the face of a title battle altogether. Going further, how about even more points for winning crown jewel races like the Daytona 500? This system seems to work well for the Indy 500 and Bathurst 1000, further cranking up the desire to win the sport’s biggest races.

Or if you wanted something really off the wall…

3. Win and you’re in – to the Homestead showdown

How about we take the whole ‘winning is everything’ mentality to its logical conclusion and reward every single driver who wins a race during the season with a shot at the title in Homestead? It does admittedly further disregard points positions, although a minimum of being in the top 20 in points would be required, but imagine this year – we’ve had 13 different winners this season. A 13-way showdown for the title? Imagine the mayhem that would ensue – although I can’t see Newman being a fan of it. I can see the appeal of this – potentially combining with my ‘two separate trophies’ idea above to guarantee that the final race will not be a washout either way.

So there’s our ideas. What about yours? And Mr France, if you are reading this, we’ll expect our free tickets in the post if you use any of these ideas. Thanks in advance.