Tag: Bill Elliott

Commentary: Both Sides Of The Chase Debate


It is now official that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will have a new system in place to determine the champion. It has been hailed by NASCAR CEO Brian France as a simplified formula that will appeal to fans with its winner-take-all approach. According to their data, everyone is on board with the change. However there’s plenty of examples to the contrary.

When I started this blog, going on four years ago, there was an unintended consequence that took place. My view of the sport shifted from an extremely bias fan to someone who sees both sides of the coin, so to speak. I learned that to make it, I couldn’t come out and bash a driver or team without merit. With that said, as much as I dislike the direction NASCAR is going, I can see exactly why they’re going that way.

We’ll start right there with why they’re doing this. It’s no secret that ratings and attendance are stagnate in NASCAR. Feeling that the boom in attendance and ratings would continue forever, NASCAR didn’t think about what would happen when it stopped. The excitement that will come from each knock out round (something right out of reality television) should draw in causal fans and television networks. Add to that a simple winner-takes-all final race at Homestead and it’ll be guaranteed that will be the focus of many sports fans come November.

It is also a move against a point structure where a driver could not even win and still be champion. Putting an emphasis on winning has been a constant battle for NASCAR ever since 1985, when Bill Elliott won 11 times, but lost the title to Darrell Waltrip and his three wins. The emphasis has been placed on winning because doing so in the first 26 races gets you into the Chase. From there, if a driver wins one race during each knockout round, he or she will be guaranteed to move on to the next round. That sets up the stage for the final race where four drivers will be on equal ground. In years past, drivers would have such a point lead that simply showing up to the event made them champion. Now to guarantee they’ll win the title, they’ve got to win the race.

The biggest sticking point I am seeing about this new system is it seems to fly in the face of tradition when it comes to NASCAR history. I whole heartedly understand and believe that as well. That said, if you don’t evolve and keep moving, you’ll get left behind. As ESPN’s Marty Smith noted, this is NASCAR swinging at the fences to do something for not only the short term, but also the long term health of the sport. I applaud them for doing something proactively rather than retroactively.

The negatives of the system are a long booming list of what-if scenarios. Right off the bat, if the system was applied to 2013, your champion is Dale Earnhardt, Jr., a driver who went winless in 2013. How is that indicative of a system that rewards wins versus consistency? You can argue drivers would have raced differently with the new system in place, but it at least shows that wins don’t mean you’re going to win the title.

Something that bothers me about setting this up for a four way, winner-takes-all, royal rumble at Homestead is that NASCAR is manufacturing a “Game 7” moment. In 2011, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards dueled for the title, with Stewart winning a tiebreaker. That was real and that was special. What makes it special was you didn’t know it would happen until it happened. Now, you’re guaranteed every year it’ll be a one race shoot out. Exciting yes, but the luster is lost because you know it is coming.

If the playoff system will be like this for the next, who knows how many years, then NASCAR needs to go a step further. The final 10 race locations (or even just the finale) need to be changed on a yearly basis. If they are so insistent on comparing themselves to football, then they should look no further. Their championship game is played at a different venue every year. Sometimes it is played inside a dome, sometimes it is played outside in 80 degree weather, and this year it’s being played in frigid temperatures outside. Imagine the season finale being run at a short track or even a road course.

We saw last year at Richmond that teams will do most anything to get into the Chase. Michael Waltrip Racing tried, got caught, and were crucified. With that example, I would hope that no one tries to fudge the outcome of the Chase, but those questions will linger since Richmond and intensify this year. Is a driver racing hard to keep someone behind him to benefit a teammate? Is a driver not racing hard enough and letting someone by so they can advance? Now we’re getting back to ball and strike calls that I hate because they impact the outcome of the championship in a one race shootout.

My final thought on the matter is a simple one. I’ve stated it on Twitter and I’ll state it again here. At the end of the day for how much fans dislike this proposal (or like it) it doesn’t matter. Public opinion only factors so much into NASCAR’s decision and it’s a very simple situation all together. This is NASCAR’s sandbox. You’re welcome to play in it, but they make the rules. If you don’t like them, then you can always get out.

The approach I am going into 2014 with is “let’s see how this plays out.” If it is every bit as exciting as NASCAR hopes, then I’ll be happy to admit I was wrong in doubting them. If it ends the way fans fear, then I’ll be happy to admit I was right in doubting. Either way, we won’t know until the checkered flag falls at Homestead, and until then we just have to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Nagging Questions About The New Chase


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.

The Paradigm Shift In NASCAR


Much was made last November about a changing of the guard in NASCAR when we ran the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mark Martin and Ken Schrader made it be known it would be their final Sprint Cup Series race. For Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte it represented their final full-time race in the series, although Labonte did not make the trip south as his finale was a week prior at Phoenix.

Beyond those four drivers there are a few more veterans who might be shut out of the Sprint Cup Series in 2014, making a landscape of drivers whom diehard fans know, but the casual fan might not. David Reutimann, an eight year veteran has been let go from BK Racing and it’s not looking good for him securing a new ride. Dave Blaney, with 16 years, has said he will focus more on sprint cars than the Sprint Cup Series in 2014. And signs are not good that Travis Kvapil, a nine year veteran, will have a ride in 2014 either.

There always comes a time in NASCAR when it seems the whole landscape shifts to a new crop of stars. In the late-80s drivers like Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Richard Petty, and Cale Yarborough got out of the way for the new crop. That crop included Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, and Mark Martin among others.

Those drivers have slowly retired along the way, handing off the baton to the likes of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and others. With rides being at a premium in the Sprint Cup Series, this will be the first time in a very long time we will have a deep rookie class coming into the season. That comes at the cost of veterans who have been hanging on, for good or bad.

This rookie class has, officially, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt, and Michael Annett. Unofficially Justin Allgaier should be joining them in the Phoenix Racing entry and most recently it looks like Alex Bowman should as well with BK Racing.

While it is unfamiliar times for some NASCAR fans, this time should be embraced with excitement. While we wish all the veterans can hang on, I for one believe it’s time for change and to get new faces into the sport.