Views From the Grandstand: It's time to Change the Chase

Kay Bell | January 01, 2010
 
Jimmie Johnson holds up four fingers to signify his unprecedented four consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships.
Jimmie Johnson holds up four fingers to signify his unprecedented four consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships.

It’s a new year, but I still hate the Chase for the Championship.

NASCAR isn’t a stick-and-ball sport, so it didn’t need to try to reinvent itself by adding a playoff.

The ostensible reason was that, too often under the old system, the championship was decided well before the last race was run. Guess what? That’s still happening.

The real, and wrong, reason the Chase was created was to appease the TV suits, who were tired of losing their Sunday viewers to football in the fall. They thought if they could advertise their races as a playoff, they could pry a few eyes from the gridiron.

That hasn’t worked out. Part of the problem is that the 48 team has this Chase thing licked. Good for them, but bad for the fans and TV networks.

NASCAR is obviously committed to the Chase, so I’ve resigned myself to dealing with this faux faceoff. But I do have some suggestions on how it can be improved.

Return to 10

When the Chase started, only 10 drivers made the cut. Then Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t make it in, so NASCAR expanded the field. Bad idea.

It was obvious that the change was made as a knee-jerk reaction to two popular drivers missing out. Any pretense that the so-called playoff was legitimate vanished when NASCAR expanded it. So go back to the top 10. If Junior or Jeff or Jimmie (yeah, right!) misses out, it’s just one of them racing deals.

Let winners in

Is 10 not enough cars? Then let’s include everyone who wins a regular-season race.

NASCAR finally acknowledged that fans (and competitors) value wins by increasing the points awarded for a win. And the number of wins count even more when it comes to

Chase seeding.

But this season, two of the biggest winners and most compelling racers were on the verge of missing the Chase. Mark Martin made it. Kyle Busch didn’t.

NASCAR lucked out with Mark. Even though he had four wins as the cutoff neared, he was in danger of not getting in. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the oldest driver and big fan favorite got a chance in this career-reviving season to go for his first series title.

But the racing powers that be had to be devastated that their headline-grabbing, fan-polarizing bad boy didn’t get to make a no-holds-barred run for his first Sprint Cup championship despite five points-paying wins.

So let’s allow anyone who wins a race in. That’s already the deal for the all-star race. And again, it underscores the point of racing — to win!

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