As the idea of NASCAR’s radical changes to their Chase structure continues to marinate with media, fans, and competitors, there are still some burning questions that surround it. I’ve thought about this elimination system over the past few days and now it’s beginning to grow on me; but there are a couple of nagging issues with this system, along with any other system put into place for racing.
If NASCAR wants a “playoff” system, then you need eliminations. Not everyone should be eligible for the championship at the end of the playoffs. That makes sense. However, this is exactly what the Chase should have been all along; not ten years into the game.
A major concern this system does not address is the fact that winning races still does not matter to win the series. Unless you awarded an obscene amount of points for a win versus any other finish, it will all even out in the end. If anything, this system will spawn a more painful example of how winning doesn’t matter than any other time in the sport’s past.
With the idea of eliminations, while highly unlikely, this could happen. Say Matt Kenseth goes out and wins 8 of the first 26 races, that being 30% of the races run to that point. He then has three straight did not finishes (DNFs) for various reasons and is out after the first round of eliminations because of those three bad races. There would still be seven races to go in the season, and if this driver won two more times, you could have a driver win 10 times, but not be crowned the champion.
The historical example of this was in 1985 when Bill Elliott won 11 times, but finished second to Darrell Waltrip, who only won three times. Waltrip was more consistent in finishes than Elliott, especially in the last three months of the season. Even Waltrip, who was the champion by 101 points and benefited most from the structure, said Elliott should have won it. Elliot had lost a 206 point lead in the last two months. NASCAR’s response at the time was to stand pat. No changes were made to how points were awarded right after the 1985 season to “save face.”
In fact nothing was changed about the point standings until the Chase debuted in 2004. Maybe that is the difference between 1985 and 2014, where everyone’s opinions can be heard by everyone. Or maybe it is the difference between a NASCAR run by Bill France, Jr. versus being run by his son, Brian France.
The biggest flaw of the Chase since its inception for 2004 is the same that hits any big idea. You can dream up an idea, but until it is put into place, you cannot account for every scenario. Nobody was expecting when Jamie McMurray won two of the most prestigious races in 2010 that he wouldn’t make the Chase. As a result, wildcards were created to help prevent that from happening again.
Then there is the Richmond incident last season where teams colluded to get a teammate into the Chase. NASCAR had to step in to kick a team out, add a team, and then for one time add an extra driver to the Chase. While they made an example of the Michael Waltrip Racing team, it begs the question of what will another team do in a one race shootout?
The Chase was a simple idea that got overly complicated when put into place. This new idea is a complicated one that will get even more complicated once it is in place. I just want to remove these complications and just go race. Let the points fall the way they would without all the gimmicks.