When NASCAR announced the new Chase grid system, and the expansion to sixteen drivers, I immediately cringed. Sixteen drivers, in my opinion, is too many and it “waters down” the significance of the championship.
As more details were learned, I was fascinated with what NASCAR had designed. It is truly a superb mix of winning versus consistency. Also, eliminating drivers every three races adds an element of excitement we have never seen before – a driver can be in the Chase, then suddenly out. This was NASCAR’s attempt to add drama, a goal I believe will be accomplished.
The new Chase format also lends itself to drivers who are risk takers. Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski come to mind. Their “less conservative” approach will likely be a benefit for this year’s Chase. A win in each of the three race segments automatically advances you to the next round. Drivers like Busch and Keselowski have historically been the type of driver who will go for the win by taking chances like – diving into a corner under another car and hoping it sticks. Under the old system, this may have made winning a championship a little tougher, but not now. That one bold move may be the difference between advancing and being dropped from contention.
The exciting thing is we may now see the more conservative, more consistent drivers begin to take those chances. Imagine seeing Matt Kenseth diving into a corner three wide, left sides on the apron, car sliding sideways as Kenseth thinks to himself “twelve tires stick better than four.” Kenseth, known for being a smart, smooth racer, is not the guy you would expect to do that. Perhaps this system changes that mentality.
We need to see more moves like the one Carl Edwards made a few years ago, driving in so deep and hoping it will stick like it does on the video game and then bouncing off the wall as the tires reached their mechanical limits. Edwards though, did not complain about the failure, but was excited about the adventure and what could have been. It didn’t work out for Edwards, but if it had, we would still be talking about it just like we are Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven at Darlington.
Another element this system adds is the fact that it allows drivers like AJ Allmendinger and teams like JTG Daugherty to be part of the championship talk. The additional media attention is what these smaller teams need. Team co-owner, Brad Daugherty, commented that making the Chase immediately brought an extra two million dollars in funding to his team. How can that be a bad thing?
This is what NASCAR would like to see from this new Chase format. More of those “game seven” moments, and Cinderella stories. Of course only time will tell if the idea works. I’m sure this will be a topic of discussion throughout the next ten races. There will be supporters, and of course, there will be critics, but the main thing is, there will be excitement.
As the series opens up the Chase on Sunday at Chicago, the level of anticipation is high. I think the Chase will live up to the hype. I think we are about to see one of the most exciting championship battles in the history of NASCAR. After Homestead, I will either eat crow or celebrate the fact that my predictions came to fruition. One thing is certain, however, I won’t complain if I fail, but I will be excited about the adventure and what could have been.