The Chase is Gone, but Is That Good?

Monday’s NASCAR announcement about the new format for NASCAR Camping World Truck, XFINITY and Monster Energy Cup Series season was not only unusual, but might just be the most extraordinary thing that’s happened to the sport since the announcement that the championship would be based on the last 10 races of the season—the Chase. It’s even noteworthy that the Chase name is gone—it’s now the playoffs. You know, like the NFL, MLB, NBA and all that. For what amounts to almost 60 years, a link to the past has been severed at the head. The reaction to this should be interesting.

The most interesting thing to come out of this is the almost flashback to the point system that the Chase was designed to cripple. From now on, points will matter, whether it be a top five finish in one of the first three segments or the win. The math hasn’t been fully analyzed, but it appears that a driver could finish top three and out-point the winner of the race. Never say it won’t happen. It might. All the same, the format. That said, the hope is that what happened last year when Joe Gibbs Racing cars sandbagged at Talladega and Martinsville won’t happen again. It also assures that the whole season means something with a regular season champion and a bonus for those drivers as they enter the playoffs. That must be good, and one of the advantages of the new format.

The drivers involved, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, and Dale Earnhardt are known to be innovators. In fact, Keselowski, always the bearer of new ideas, caught a zinger from a reporter about his alleged design for the All-Star race and prompted Roush Fenway’s Steve Newmark to quip that Keselowski had adult supervision during the formation of the new format.

On the surface, only a few hours away, I tend to give the format a chance. It smells of a gimmick, but it may work, so I’ll give it a chance. Everyone on the stage from officials of major teams to drivers to NASCAR big wigs was almost giddy on Monday. If it works, they will look like geniuses, but that is to be determined.

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The danger is the long-time loyal fan just might tune out. I sat in the seats at Bristol last spring when heat races were tried in the XFINITY series. Confusion, disbelief, and hatred abated. Many left early. These are the fans that come back every year and if they don’t understand what is going on, they might be lost. Will, if it happens, the loss of the core fan, offset the influx of millennials and new fans? That’s the gamble the sanctioning body is taking. Will it work? I do not know, but I do know that since the championship is not going to be the main thing from the beginning until the end, it does align NASCAR with the stick and ball sports.

Whether it works or not may determine the future of the sport. All of us has to hope it works, but for this reporter, I have my doubts.

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