Saturday Morning Quarterback

NASCAR should drop Chase, add title race
Feb 8, 2014

 

Larry Woody likes to say winters like this are why he used to look forward to two weeks in Daytona Beach, Fla., every year when he covered the NASCAR beat.

Racing fans are eagerly anticipating the Daytona 500 in a few weeks as the 2014 season goes green.

But it’s when the season approaches the white and checkered flags which has made the most news recently.

In another bid to leave the American public in suspense until the last possible moment, NASCAR has again tweaked its Chase to the Championship format. The field has been expanded from 12 to 16 drivers with the first 15 slots going to drivers who have won a race and the 16th to the points leader after 26 races.

Also, instead of drivers falling out of the race by natural points attrition, the four last-place racers at the end of each of the first three of four rounds of the Chase will be formally removed from contention.

As for the details, you can look them up. The France family and Mike Helton must have loved the BCS system because just as the college football powers that be finally removed that hated system, they’ve created one just as complicated.

Last week in this space I mentioned how I liked things the old fashioned way. A decade ago I wrote the old NASCAR points system worked fine. It rewarded season-long consistent excellence. And while in many years, the champion was decided before the final race, in others it came down to the finale. The Truck Series and Indy Series regularly have tight races go down to the wire with about 10 fewer events and the Nationwide Series has also gone down to the final Saturday with just as many races.

In fact, in one of the early Chase seasons, the reconfigured standings were more lopsided than what they would have been had the system been left alone.

Fact of the matter is, some games, races, championship races, pennant races, playoff races are just not going to be close, no matter what one does to tweak things. If Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch are the dominant drivers, they deserve to run away with the championship if they can. It makes the years when the race is tight much more special.

But NASCAR, the sport that runs on wheels, continues to try to reinvent it when it comes to crowning the king – and I don’t mean Richard Petty.

But I have the solution.

The weakness of the old points system is victories aren’t rewarded enough. Finishing second is only slightly less good than winning on a weekly basis. Running consistently in the top 10 every week is better than winning one week, crashing out early the next. Thus, drivers aren’t rewarded or motivated to push the envelope – or gas pedal.

My solution would be to add a race at the end of the season reserved for the winners of the 36 scheduled races and no more.

Problem No. 1 with the Chase is it encompasses the final 10 scheduled races. That’s like the NFL taking all the scheduled games after Thanksgiving and using them in such a way that thankfully hasn’t been thought of and determining the league champion in the final Sunday Night game on NBC.

No playoffs in January or Super Bowl in February.

When sports leagues decided to hold championship games, they added games following the season to determine the champ.

If NASCAR wants a “Game 7” situation, it needs to create it and not turn the regular-season finale into one.

This extra race might only have 10 drivers, or it could have 36. If this race had been held in 2013, Matt Kenseth [seven wins] would be on the pole with Jimmie Johnson [six] next to him. Sixteen drivers won the 36 races, although one, Tony Stewart, would probably have to miss the race as he was recovering from a broken leg. Drivers with the same number of wins would start based on points.

 

As for when to have the race, the best time is the second Saturday in December when the Heisman Trophy is awarded.

NASCAR’s problem with attracting late-season attention isn’t from lackluster championship races, it’s from football. It’s baseball’s problem in October during World Series time. MLB should end its regular season on Labor Day and get the playoffs started and ended by the end of September. But that’s another column.

The finale at Homestead is held a couple of Sundays before Thanksgiving. Every weekend during November is loaded with football and the first Saturday in December is chock full of conference championship games.

But that second Saturday, this past year, had the Army-Navy game and the Heisman ceremony. That’s enough space and sparse enough competition to have the championship race. And it also gives NASCAR enough time to promote the event and media to hype it, sort of like the two-week break before the Super Bowl.

As for where to have it. How about Daytona?

NASCAR’s Super Bowl is held at the beginning of the season. This real Super Bowl race would come at the end to come full circle on the campaign just two months before the next one begins. And the weather shouldn’t be any more of a factor than it normally would be, whereas Charlotte, Indianapolis and just about any other track would be susceptible to wintry weather in mid-December.

The only possible drawback might be a 10-driver race. But it would be the best 1-36 drivers without the riff-raff cars gumming up the works. Sure, fans might like to see the lapped cars cause some wrecks. But I think the drivers would love not having to deal with slow cars and, for the most part, inexperienced drivers.

The only way to see if it would work is to try it.

With NASCAR tweaking its format as often as the Frances and Mike Helton change socks, my solution should be ready for consideration just in time for the holidays.

You’re welcome, guys. 

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