Mix up the Chase for the Championship

Kay Bell | September 03, 2011

Chase for the Championship needs revamping to recapture its appeal

One of the most frequent complaints about the Chase for the Championship is that reducing the Sprint Cup hunt to 10 races devalues the full season.

Jeff Gordon crosses the finish line to win the 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway, his second victory of 2011.

That’s a fair argument. We old-timers, er, veteran NASCAR fans remember fondly the days when the sport’s top trophy went to the driver who could master all types of tracks.

I’ve grudgingly accepted that NASCAR is not going to do away with its so-called playoff system. But the sport could mollify my fellow fans and me by again rewarding a well-rounded racer.

How? By changing the Chase races.

The 2011 Chase begins on Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway. That’s followed by trips to New Hampshire, Dover, Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega, Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix before handing over the hardware at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Aside from the always-on-the-edge Talladega and the paperclip that’s Martinsville, yawn. Wake me when Jimmie Johnson collects NASCAR championship No. 6.

The biggest problem with these tracks is that most of them are too similar. OK, that’s a major problem with a lot of NASCAR tracks. But the repetition during the Chase is notable.

Half of the last 10 events are on 1.5-mile tracks. Three others are a mile long (to be exact, Loudon, N.H., is just a tad longer than a mile). And while the banking varies a bit, these eight tracks are basically the same-old race oval.

So let’s mix it up a bit.

I’ll admit right up front that, despite my kvetching, five of the current Chase races still make my ideal final 10. But my other five Chase choices should spice up the championship quest.

1. Talladega: The NASCAR season begins with the restrictor-plate race at Daytona, so it’s fitting that a restrictor-plate competition would get the playoffs started. And this Chase keeper would do so in grand style, with the prospect of “the big one” adding excitement. But moving it from the sixth race of the Chase also would give any ­championship-seeking teams caught up in the usual mayhem more time to recover.

2. Charlotte: After surviving (or maybe not) Talladega, the teams deserve to return home to Charlotte for a little rest and track familiarity. So this one stays, too.

3. Martinsville: This half-mile track’s unique layout makes it a current Chase holdover. It is two drag strips connected by hairpins. What’s not to love?

4. Dover: You want to tell Miles the Monster he can’t have a Chase race? I don’t. Plus, the Monster Mile’s concrete at least offers a unique race surface. The inimitable Intimidator always complained about racing on sidewalks, but it’s a challenge for drivers and teams and deserves to stay part of the Chase.

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