So, if you’ve been living under a rock (Bravo, that is a pretty hard thing to do from a logistics side of things), you may not of heard about NASCAR’s new play-off system. Basically, it calls for a 16 car Chase field, wins getting you in, and point resets during the Chase, culminating in a four car Chase at Homestead, where whomever earns the most points at Homestead alone wins the championship.
Now, I think we can all understand why it would be a 16 car Chase field. At the end of the day, money is a huge part of making the Chase. Sponsors love it; it gives your car a huge platform and featured regularly, etc. Overall, a Chase spot is worth I’d estimate at least a million dollars, and who knows how much more if you finish in the top 10 and go to Vegas for a week. This is why Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) did what they did at Richmond, even though the end result was losing the biggest sponsor they had, $300,000 in fines, and losing almost all of their momentum they had picked up over the last two years. So more Chase drivers means more money for the team owners. I really doubt many of the owners or the drivers (Remember, more money for the owners means more money for the drivers) argued against this.
We can also all understand why it’s “win and in”. NASCAR wants drivers to go for victories, the last thing they want is for a Matt Kenseth type to take four tires in every race and finish in the top ten every week rather than contend for most victories. The problem with this is that, unlike the NFL for instance, there is no incentive after you’ve won a race and basically clinched yourself into the play-offs. Just look at the Chase field from last season if this system had happened (Assuming if there are less than 16 winners the remaining field is determined by points, and also without Tony Stewart, as he would have been unable to compete):
1- Jamie McMurray
5- Kasey Kahne
15- Clint Bowyer
16- Greg Biffle
18- Kyle Busch
20- Matt Kenseth
22- Joey Logano
24- Jeff Gordon
29- Kevin Harvick
34- David Ragan
39- Ryan Newman
48- Jimmie Johnson
56- Martin Truex Jr.
78- Kurt Busch
88- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
99- Carl Edwards
Now, doesn’t somebody kinda stick out amongst those 16 drivers? Yes, that’s one David Ragan right there, who finished 28th in points (Yes, worse than Danica Patrick), whose win and his two top-10s of the season happened at one Talladega Superspeedway. If you don’t know, ‘Dega is the biggest crap-shoot in all of racing. Lake Speed even won a race there! So getting a lucky run on the final lap at Talladega will automatically put you in the Chase? Yes, it will.
And because of that, after you win, why try again until the Chase? Imagine if teammates are running 1-2, and the leading one drops back because the leading driver already has a victory and 2nd doesn’t. It would make MWR look like a fat kid smuggling candy out of a candy store.
Now, I’m not going to rag on Ragan very much, because he’s just one of quite a few over the Chase years who had completely unremarkable seasons, save for a fuel mileage, rain, or lucky ‘Dega win in the first 26 races.
2004: Rusty Wallace (Okay this one is a bit tough to put on here, but come on! When you finish 16th in the final point standings with only three top fives, you don’t deserve to be in the Chase)
2005: Kyle Busch (20th in final standings), Kevin Harvick (14th in final standings- but remember the cut-off was 10th back then), Kasey Kahne (23rd in final standings), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (19th in final standings).
2006: Nobody, as all winners actually made the Chase. However, if we take the probable points rule into effect, 15th place Casey Mears and 16th ranked Clint Bowyer get the nod.
2007: Casey Mears (15th in points), Juan Pablo Montoya (20th in points), Jamie McMurray (16th in points)
2008: Kurt Busch (19th in points), Ryan Newman (16th in points). Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne would of gotten in on wins, but Bowyer finished 12th and while Kahne finished 14th he did have two victories.
2009: David Reutimann (16th in points), Joey Logano (20th in points), Brad Keselowski (This was before you could earn points in one series, so he would of been in, even though he drove in 15 total races and finished 38th in points)
2010: David Reutimann (18th in points), Juan Pablo Montoya (17th in points)
2011: Ragan Smith (26th in points), David Ragan (23rd in points), Marcus Ambrose (19th in points), Paul Menard (17th in points)
2012: Marcus Ambrose (18th in points), Joey Logano (17th in points)
There’s also a lot of misleading on the media’s part.
“Only 27.9 percent of NASCAR’s teams make the Chase (12 of 43). Both the NBA and NHL have more than half their teams (16 of 30) make the playoffs. The NFL has 37.5 percent of its teams make the playoffs and 33.3 percent of Major League Baseball’s teams advance to the postseason. Even with putting 16 teams in NASCAR’s Chase, that means 37.8 percent of the teams can contend for the title. That puts NASCAR in line with other major pro sports. Doesn’t mean it’s right, just that NASCAR’s system is not out of whack compared to other sports.” – Dustin Long
The problem with this is that NASCAR is more a business than a sport. Want to debate this? Just look at how little turnaround there is here rather than in other sports. The Kansas City Chiefs went from 2-14 in 2012 to 11-5 and in the play-offs just a year later. The Indianapolis Colts went 2-14 in 2011 and has gone 11-5 in the last two seasons. Sure, the NFL has 32 teams and NASCAR has 43. But the reality is that only 20-25 cars have a legitimate shot at making the Chase as it stands now. I can guarantee you right now that Go FAS Racing (The No. 32 Ford) isn’t making the Chase anytime soon, even if the 16 car Chase goes into effect. BK Racing (The No .23 and No. 83 Toyota’s) had a horrible season last year, so bad they sprung like the Colts and fired the players (Or drivers) and replaced them with new, young guns. They aren’t winning this year. The only two teams to have turned the corner over the past five seasons have been Stewart Haas Racing (Thanks entirely to Stewart becoming involved) and Michael Waltrip Racing.
In fact, if you look over the past ten years, those two teams are the only ones that come to mind. Even in RCR’s worst season, they’ve always had a car finish in the top-15 or 20 in the final points. In Penske’s worst season (2008), they finished 1-2 in the Daytona 500 and had two cars in the top-20 in final standings.
This seems like a poor attempt in order to create excitement. Sure, last season’s points battle wasn’t really exciting at Homestead. But some championships end in Game 3. Some Super Bowls end 24-7. That makes those Game 7 moments, those gigantic Super Bowl moments that much sweeter. You cannot force good racing. This is a fact NASCAR hasn’t understood in a while. Stewart versus Edwards would not have been exciting or remembered as fondly if the same battle had happened in 2010 and 2012. Sure, every year it would be nice to have it come down to that, but then you make one race as this mecca of motorsport and short sight every other race on the schedule. What is this, NASCAR or IndyCar?
Then again, at least IndyCar has a championship where a driver can win every race of the season except the last and hoist the title. Oh well.
And the sad thing is no matter what NASCAR does, Homestead and the rest of the Chase will always finish second to the NFL in ratings. Always.