2014 Chase: A Huge Win For NASCAR


I’ll be the first to admit it. I was skeptical of the new chase elimination system when it was unveiled. I wasn’t even sure I liked the current chase system. The highest number of points over 36 races was the way real champions were crowned. Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, and many others won by being consistent all season. That is how it was and should be until the end of time. Eliminating drivers has never worked in the All-Star race and Sprint Unlimited and it sure as hell won’t work for a points system. There were a lot of people that felt the same as I did. Finding someone to commiserate with wasn’t difficult.

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Fast forward to November and I couldn’t be happier with the new system. The racing this year has been nothing short of amazing and a breath of fresh air. The year has been broken up into segments with a different approach to each one that forces drivers to adapt. The first 26 races are all about wins. If a driver was in a position to get a win they would do anything to capitalize on that opportunity. That’s because history says if a team wins one race they are all but guaranteed on a chase birth. After a driver notched that all important win the only thing that still mattered was wins. They had nothing to lose. Teams could try different things and not worry about points.

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And about those points. They haven’t completely gone away. The system has created a hybrid where wins are most important but drivers can still be a championship contender by finishing consistently. Just ask Ryan Newman. Newman’s team didn’t win a race in 2014 but was just one position away from winning a championship. Many people said it would have been a black eye for NASCAR if Newman would have won on Sunday but it would be just the opposite showing just how flexible the new system is and how different strategies can be used to win a championship.

After 26 weeks of excellent racing the chase finally started. NASCAR’s marketing of “16 Nations” included a large fan base each pulling for their driver to advance to the next round. Personally, I expected a lot of points racing. Yes, a win would get a driver into the next round but in order to win a race the driver and team will need to accept a certain amount of risk. Something that we haven’t seen in past years when the championship was on the line. Then right out of the box Brad Keselowski made a statement. Winning at Chicagoland not only advanced him to the contender round but the next two weeks didn’t matter. Keselowski’s only job was to win races. The remaining drivers that didn’t have the opportunity to win focused on points and beating the other chase drivers.

Once we got to the contender round one race loomed large on everyone’s calendars, Talladega. A win at Kansas or Charlotte was more important than ever because anything can happen at Talladega. Drivers up on the wheel going for a win was exactly what we saw in those two races. Joey Logano was the first to capitalize in Kansas and Kevin Harvick advanced a week later in Charlotte. While passion and frustration overtook Hamlin, Keselowski, and Kenseth at Charlotte, Logano and Harvick rested easy.

Finally, the long awaited Talladega was upon us. Drivers like Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., and Keselowski would face elimination if they didn’t deliver. For once riding in the back wasn’t the best solution for a championship contender. Kyle Busch found it out the hard way and was eliminated. Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. came up short but Keselowski was able to seal the deal and advance in a game seven situation.

Just when everyone didn’t think they could take anymore it was time for the Eliminator round. Tempers flew right away at Martinsville when Harvick was wrecked by Kenseth. This carried over to Texas when Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon got into it racing for the win. Another fight after the race showed how much pressure each of these drivers were under.

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Phoenix didn’t disappoint. Eight drivers fought for four spots and five of them would have to win in order to advance. Kevin Harvick delivered once again and Jeff Gordon who finished second was out of the championship battle. Ryan Newman showed what he was made of when he was able to catch and pass Kyle Larson. The two swapped paint and fought hard through the final turn before Newman prevailed.

Finally, in the final race at Homestead winning the race meant winning a championship and Kevin Harvick did just that. A solid top five wasn’t going to get the job done. The battle went down to the final lap between Harvick and Newman who were both deserving of a Sprint Cup Series title. What more could we ask for as fans?

NASCAR has set the precedence that winning is the new measuring stick but points still mean a lot. What is bad about that? Win a race and advance to the chase. Not bad at all. The racing is unpredictable. The final four drivers were looking for their first championship and the favorites like Johnson and Gordon were not in the final four because they didn’t deliver at some point in the chase. It doesn’t matter what they did yesterday. Yes, that helped them get in the position they are in now but winning now is what matters and what the fans want to see. However, even if their driver doesn’t advance fans are still treated to some great racing.

As sports fans we need to accept change. The sport is always evolving. We can’t hold onto the days of single-file restarts, racing back to the caution flag, and the champion having the highest point total from Daytona through championship weekend. This is the era of green-white-checkered finishes, double-file restarts, and a champion that rises to the occasion when everything is on the line.

I’ve been a NASCAR fan for many years and was never this pumped to watch a championship battle play out and to see the race each and every week. When it all shook out the only way to win the championship was to win races. My only worry is that NASCAR has now raised the bar too high. As fans we all know that the championship battle may not be a nail biter each and every year. This holds true in any sport. However, I hope NASCAR will leave the system alone after what we saw this year. It has been great and I can’t wait for it to all start again in Daytona.

Aaron Hale is a Staff Writer for BeyondTheFlag.com on the FanSided Network. Follow us on Twitter @Beyond_The_Flag and “Like” us on Facebook.