The Frontstretch: Polishing NASCAR's Bad Penny: It's Time to Fix the Chase by Amy Henderson -- Thursday October 25, 2007

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Polishing NASCAR's Bad Penny: It's Time to Fix the Chase

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday October 25, 2007


Like a bad penny, we're stuck with it. But even a bad penny can be polished, and that what it's time for NASCAR to do with the Chase for the Nextel Cup-polish that bad penny until it's shiny. It might still be bad at heart, but at least the outward show might be bearable.

When the Chase started, fans were promised tweaks and changes as it went along, to "improve" the playoff system that we never needed in the first place. So far all we have seen is adding more teams to an already over-diluted mix and a convoluted point system that was designed to reward winning, but goes so far as to possibly take the point lead away from the point leader when the playoffs start. As added (non)bonus, it stops once the Chase starts, so winning during the playoffs is actually less important than during the regular season, when the opposite should be true.

Can a penny this bad really be polished?

Yes it can. It will never be truly fixed without eliminating it altogether, but if tweaks were made in the right places and made for the good of the sport, not just to appease a certain faction of fans, the Chase penny could at least look decent.

First of all, the number of eligible drivers should have been reduced by half, not increased to include more not-quite-good-enough drivers and teams. Once upon a time, finishing in the Top 10 for the year was honor enough. It got you a front row seat at the Waldorf and a big fat bonus check. And that was enough-a huge pat on the back for a job well done, actually. But the bottom line was, if you were, say eighth in points, you had a great year-but not a championship year. Now you get a free, second-chance shot at stealing a title from a team that spent all year earning it, not just going a ten-race hot streak. It reminds me of the new "progressive" baseball and soccer leagues for children, where they don't keep score, so nobody loses and everyone feels good. Please. That attitude is horrible for children, who no longer have to learn the finer points of sportsmanship, and it's even worse for adults-crews, drivers, or their fans-who ought to accept a decent finish for their team for what it is-a hard-fought, outstanding season in which they outstripped 75% of the competition week in and week out.

But leave the championship for the guys who earn it for 36 weeks-cut the field to five. Realistically, heading into the last ten races, if the points were not reset, maybe five guys usually have a shot at the title (sure, there are exceptions, such as 1992 when no less than six entered the final race with a mathematical shot), so NASCAR needs to stop rewarding better-than-average and start rewarding true excellence.

Second, the schedule needs to be revamped to add a better and more challenging group of tracks to the mix. The current mix has one superspeedway, one short track, three one-milers, and five 1.5-2-mile cookie cutters. Talladega is a horsepower track, and the cookie-cutters are all about engine durability and handling-and so the teams with the best engines have a huge advantage. Sure the guys in the engine department work their butts off and deserve recognition, but adding tracks that put more emphasis on driving and adjustments would enhance the competition and ensure an exciting championship battle. Also, Chase tracks should be required to install lights or lose their date, to avoid finishes like we saw at Kansas when a rain delay pushed the race into near darkness. (Of course actually starting the races at a decent hour would also help.)

As I see it, the Chase schedule should look like this: New Hampshire (because for all its detractors, NHIS produces decent racing and forces drivers to drive hard and teams to constantly adjust on the cars), Dover, Watkins Glen (a road course demands versatility and skill), Richmond, Charlotte (home track), Martinsville, Las Vegas (the new layout is much better than Texas), Phoenix, Kansas, and Daytona (which is much more a handling/driving track than Talladega). That would shift the ration to one superspeedway, one road course, two short tracks, two flat milers, one banked mile oval, and three 1.5-mile tracks that are distinctly different. A greater variety of tracks would put a greater emphasis on teamwork and driving rather than horsepower, and durability would still be an important factor. It would be a truer, more interesting test of a champion.

Finally, the "seeding" system needs to go. Not only does it have to potential to take away a point lead that was held virtually all season (as it did this year), but as also happened, has the potential to hand the lead to a team that was not even close in points. The emphasis should be on winning in the Chase, not the regular season. Sure, hand out the extra points for the win, but only if they are awarded at the time of the win and help get a driver in the Chase, not to determine his placing with the point reset. Then, because one major problem with the Chase is some teams playing it safe rather than going all out for the win every week, give a larger bonus to the winner of a Chase race, Chaser or not. Putting more importance on winning in the Chase would force all the teams to go for the win, not just a few who feel they can risk it.

The Chase is in need of some serious polishing to make it at least look attractive. By eliminating teams that aren't of championship caliber in that year anyway, so that competition at the top is even tighter, revamping the schedule to make versatility and adaptability of more importance, and rethinking where the emphasis on winning really belongs, the bad penny might at least look its best. Since it's going to keep coming back anyway, no matter what a ridiculous mistake it as from the start, it might as well be as polished and shiny as possible. At least then, someone might want it.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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10/26/2007 12:17 AM

STOP bitching about The knew before the green flag fell for the 500 this was gunna happen. if it werent for the chase all you writers couldnt sit and whine about the chase you would be stuck with a 500 point lead and another series with a runaway points lead and you would be left with nothing to write about.

in short. STOP COMPLAINING because it could be worse

10/26/2007 05:45 AM


What a joke the entire “chase” scene is!

The last ten (10) races of the year are only to decide if Jimmie or Jeffie is going to win the chase! 41 drivers/cars gone! Forgotten! Ignored!

Now that’s real interesting racing!

And the fan loyalty to $ASCAR is disappearing rapidly in case you have not noticed!

10/26/2007 06:13 AM

The Chase is ridiculous! It was made up by NA$CAR to try to compete with football. Ratings have always dropped for races once football started, they thought with a closer points race more people would tune in. Guess what, they were wrong! No one cares! If you want a champoinship format that rewards the winner and helps make for a tighter season, look at the Formula One series. Only the top 8 get points! The winner gets 10 points, second gets 8, third gets 6, then is goes down by one for each position to 8. This would be good for so many reasons. No longer would someone be content to get that 10th spot, since no points for it! They still get money for positions but no championship points. Also make them qualify or go home!

Mike C
10/26/2007 06:55 AM

The silly Chase idea is having another serious but apparently overlooked consequence . Thanks to the media only wanting to cover fluff news such as the only driver in history to ever get married and have a child , and the only known case of a young man rebelling against his step mother , virtually all other drivers and teams have been ignored . Gordon and Earnhardt fans do not constitute the entire fan base of NASCAR . But if your favorite driver is Bobby Labonte , or David Stremme , or Dave Blaney, you rarely even know for sure if they are in the race . Fully 50 % of NASCAR fans support drivers other than Gordon and Earnhardt . Yet on average 85 % of the NASCAR news revolves around those two or their team or their team mates or their familys .If your driver isn’t in the CHASE , you don’t see or hear about him . And why would you want to continue watching if the guy who’s t-shirt you wear proudly isn’t even mentioned by the media .
If you don’t think fans are leaving in droves for this very reason , you haven’t been paying attention to the blogs and empty seats .
The media can fix this by going beyond the easy stories and covering the lives of the majority of competitors instead of the same few over and over again .

Margo L
10/26/2007 07:19 AM

If the team work and good buddys stories about Jeff and Jimmie don’t stop soon i’ll probably stop watching ! There are other teams in the chase who deserve just as much coverage . It seems like all of the racing jounalists get together every night and share the same story for the next day , only the titles vary . And the tv analysts seem like they are reading off of a script that only mentions a handfull of drivers and a handfull of stories .My favorite driver was always Terry Labonte , and he was pretty much ignored during race broadcasts even though he was a two time cup champion .

Glenn Heard
10/26/2007 08:39 AM

I, for one, certainly agree with your quote:

“Then, because one major problem with the Chase is some teams playing it safe rather than going all out for the win every week, give a larger bonus to the winner of a Chase race, Chaser or not. Putting more importance on winning in the Chase would force all the teams to go for the win, not just a few who feel they can risk it.”

Without a bonus for winning a race in the “Chase”, we have too many “points racers” and thus boring races.


Steve Cloyd
10/26/2007 10:09 AM

The chase sucks. I for one hope the bitching continues until it dies the death it deserves. NASCAR needs to stop trying to be football and get back to what made it so popular until 4 or 5 years ago; racing.

Kevin in SoCal
10/26/2007 10:47 AM

Hey Joe, I’ll stick up for you. I like the chase. It prevents runaway seasons like we would have this year by Jeff Gordon. How exciting would it be to watch Jeff Gordon with a 500 point lead? About as exciting as the Busch series is with Carl Edwards’ 600+ point lead. About the only tweak I would make is go back to the “5 points per position” system of the last 3 years, then award 10 bonus points per win during the year. Then cut it from 10 races to 5. 10 guys, 5 races, go for it!

10/26/2007 11:13 AM

The Brian’s Chump Chase is easy to fix.

Expand the field to 43 cars and extend the period to 36 races.

See? wasn’t that easy?

And pox on that bitter little weasel Robin Miller for teasing us with that “Brian France to Grand Am” rumor. It’s cruel to get peoples’ hopes up.

William T.
10/26/2007 11:17 AM

NASCAR is slowly becoming like the NBA…….everyone knows it’s there, but who cares. And it’s because of all of the great points you guys have mentioned above.

It’s getting to the point where I’d rather watch Murder She Wrote re-runs than a race. Coverage is horrible, and the analyst are unbearable.

And the Chase……holy ^#%) the Chase……

Karl S.
10/27/2007 06:20 AM

I totally agree with your comments on fixing the “Hendrick” Chase for the Cup…however, I would revamp the ENTIRE points structure. Award points only to the Top 20 finishing drivers (this eliminates badly damaged cars from running around just for points). A separate points system for the 10 Chase drivers (yes, I said 10)—10 points for the first Chase finisher down to 1 for the 10th Chase finisher regardless of overall finishing position. And my 10 Chase tracks? Here they are in order as I see them…Indianapolis, Texas, Phoenix, Sears Point (I refuse to call it by that other name), Dover, Talladega, Atlanta, Bristol, Pocono and end the season at home in Charlotte Obviously the first 26 would need to be re-shuffled to accommodate my Chase—-but as long as we are dreaming, what the heck, right?

10/27/2007 03:44 PM

I kind-of agree overall on the chase stuff. I agree about the tracks, but disagree about only having 5 guys in.

I don’t like the chase, but I didn’t like the way it was before either. This whole “good points day” junk made me take a 3 yr break from nascar.

For me, the champion is the one who won the most races. Period. Do the other major sports give the championship to the team that had the most second place finishes?

There should be two. A winners champion (won the most races), and a points champion.

I don’t fault nascar for wanting to revamp the system. But I disagree with the method. But what about just shortening the season a little? For example, I personally think baseball should just hang it up when the football season starts.

10/28/2007 10:55 AM

I agree about the coverage difference. There are the chase drivers and Junior in one group and “everybody else” in the other. Unless an “everybody else” is leading the race, they don’t get mentioned nearly as much. I was watching a couple of weeks ago (don’t remember which race) and Jamie had been running in the top 10 for 20 or 30 laps before they finally mentioned him. And they will never shorten the season. There is too much money to be made.

10/29/2007 08:20 PM

If Jeff Gordon had a 1,000 point lead, he earned every one of those points. Nobody gave them to him, but they darned sure took them away. As for not rewarding second place, how many football games are you aware of that have every team playing on the same field at the same time? There are many, many races in a single race, but most folks can’t see the forest for the trees. This crap we have been watching lately is STUPID, I enjoy racing, not dribble about racers, and not pre or post race shows. The championship should be about the racing, period. Not team orders, not wrecking on the last lap of the last race, etc


Contact Amy Henderson

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