The Frontstretch: The Frontstretch Five: Ways The New Chase Format Could Backfire On NASCAR by Amy Henderson -- Friday January 31, 2014

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Welcome to the Frontstretch Five, a brand-new column for 2014! Each week, Amy Henderson takes a look at the racing, the drivers, and the storylines that drive NASCAR to produce a list of five people, places, things, and ideas that define the current state of our sport. In the latest edition, the new points system is official, but Amy says there are some aspects that could wind up having the opposite effect from what NASCAR intends.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., despite no 2013 victories would have been last year’s champion under the new playoff format announced Thursday by NASCAR.

1. The champion could still be winless.

NASCAR continues to tout the emphasis on winning that the new points format brings about. But the boys at Joe Gibbs Racing did a little math after NASCAR gave them the rules package for the Chase, and came to a surprising conclusion: under the new format, the 2013 Sprint Cup champion would have been… Dale Earnhardt, Jr. You read that right. Because there were not 16 different winners in the first 26 races (and there have not been 16 winners through 26 races in more than ten years), Earnhardt would have made the cut based on points, and from there, the title. So while NASCAR can say the new system forces teams to race for wins, that isn’t strictly necessary, despite what the sanctioning body would have race fans believe.

Also, NASCAR is correct that many fans wanted a greater emphasis on winning… but what got lost in translation is they wanted that as part of a full-season championship format, not a convoluted system that throws consistency out the window completely at critical junctures. It would have been possible to make winning the title without a victory more difficult without being this extreme. In any case, NASCAR is advertising the title as a winners-only competition, although that’s simply not the truth.

2. The Ford Wreckfest 400

During the announcement of the new format, Brian France was asked about drivers wrecking each other for the title. Would he tolerate it? In my opinion, he basically green-lighted title contenders taking each other out. “We’re real clear about this. Whether this format or any format, if it’s late in the race and you’ve got a faster car, we expect some contact. We expect, obviously there are limits, but that’s always part of NASCAR to have some version of contact late in the race,” he said. “Will this bring more of that? I’m sure it will to some level, but that’s NASCAR.”

So, where’s the line? Is it OK for a contender to put his competition into the wall in the early laps at Homestead? Is it OK for a contender’s teammate to put his competitors into the wall? Where will NASCAR draw the line? It appears there are more questions than answers. I asked NASCAR’s VP of Competition and Racing Development, Robin Pemberton, where the line in the sand would be drawn, and his answer was ambiguous at best.

“I think we expect there to be contact throughout the entire season,” Pemberton said Thursday. “Any one race more than another; it happens that way. We know that there is an opportunity that we’ll have to make a hard call, but we also know that there are good competitors out there. We expect them to behave proper and leave the championship out there on the line for the guys that deserve that. You can never rule everything out.”

But is NASCAR willing to step up if a teammate of a title contender takes out a rival during the finale? A points or monetary fine for the aggressor would be insufficient: the season would be over and the fines would be meaningless. Would NASCAR go further and strip the title from a driver whose teammate alters the outcome of the final race, as they did by removing Martin Truex, Jr. from the 2013 Chase after it was revealed his teammates purposely lost track position to help him gain points?

I doubt it. Right now, NASCAR remains reluctant to take a race win away from a team who breaks the rules. The poor publicity from the Richmond debacle, NASCAR’s judgment calls taking center stage still stings. So would they really have the chutzpah to take away a championship title if the validity of that title is in doubt?

I think the answer to that question is no. Until that changes, there’s no reason for teams not to wreck anyone, anytime if it gives them an edge on the title.

3. A mid-packer gets lucky

Under the new rules, David Ragan would have made the Chase last year. Ragan did win at Talladega in the Spring of 2013… but he finished 28th in points for the season. Win or no, was Ragan a championship-caliber driver? Of course not, but he’d have been in the hunt. And while it’s likely that teams like the No. 34 would be quickly eliminated from contention, it’s possible that such a team could get lucky. With a steady midpack average in the first three races, they could move on if a few others ran into bad luck, finished at the bottom and couldn’t regain enough to outpoint them. Then, say the team in question busts off a win at Talladega (and Ragan came close last fall), guaranteeing a pass into the next round. Again, with some good luck, combined with mechanical failures or wrecks for a few others, that team could actually make the final cut… and from there, it’s anyone’s guess what goes down at Homestead.

While it was great for the sport to have a small, underfunded team break through with a race win last year, it wouldn’t be so great if that driver somehow won the title over drivers who consistently outperformed him for most of the year. It’s not a likely scenario, but it’s not impossible. And while the system is supposed to be easier for fans to understand, a 28th-place driver being crowned champion would be confusing for even the most astute fan.

4. Jimmie Johnson still wins

It’s a stretch to say that NASCAR created a new points format simply to make it harder for one specific driver to win (though quite flattering to the driver in question). But did they create a system that makes it much harder for a single driver to win multiple titles in close succession? The answer is yes. And let’s face it; right now, another Johnson title isn’t something many fans want to see.

So why might the No. 48 team still have the edge? Top-flight teams like Johnson’s get there because they are able to adapt to whatever is thrown at them, and this format is no different. It’s still possible for a driver to win multiple titles (just much harder) and for a certain one in particular to reach the milestone set by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

But NASCAR does save a little face if a driver does reach seven titles under this format: most fans will say it doesn’t mean as much because it’s a one-race title. Many are already saying Johnson’s six championships are somehow less worthy than Petty’s or Earnhardt’s because of the Chase format; this adjustment magnifies that by ten. Yes, they’re all playing by the same rules, but it’s hard to say a driver who won the title, ultimately, on the strength of one race in which he beats the other contenders is the same as one who won on the strength of a great season in which he beat the others week in and week out. Race fans don’t look at the sport the way football or college basketball fans look at their games. Hand it to NASCAR; they did find a way to give fans who don’t like a dominant driver an excuse for why his titles don’t count the same as previous ones.

5. The driver with the most wins can miss the final cut.

Not only would a winless Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have taken the 2013 championship under the new rules, but the winningest driver on the circuit would have missed the final cut. Matt Kenseth’s 23rd-place finish, last November at Phoenix would have eliminated Kenseth from title contention due to the points reset after the ninth race. And while that race did ultimately cost Kenseth a shot at his second championship last year, it’s hard to reconcile him not being eligible at all going into the season finale after posting five wins in the first 26 races and two more in the Chase.

Are race fans going to buy a title format that purports to force teams to win but in reality could see a winless champion and the driver with the most wins shut out of contention? That’s going to be a hard sell.


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The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

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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01/31/2014 08:00 AM

Perfect column. Personally, I think this is to get Chevy out of the title and finally get NA$CARs pet Toyota a title. Kyle Busch, Toyotas most marketable driver, has proven he is fast, but not consistent. He cant put together 10 races to finish the year, but he has the ability to win one every 3 or 4 races. Pretty obvious Toyotas most consistent, Kenseth, couldnt beat JJ.

01/31/2014 08:27 AM

Ten laps into the final race there’s a big wreck and three of the “contenders” are involved and can’t finish the “race.” They finish 35, 38 and 40. Twenty laps later the last one running blows his engine and finishes 34th. Not exactly like a last second field goal to win the Super Bowl or an extra-inning game 7 in the World Series. How many of those have there been?

01/31/2014 09:23 AM

As much as I have enjoy seeing Jeff Gordon race, I hope he retires after 2014, then I will stop going to races, watching or reading about the sport.

I’m tired of not only the dumb ideas of Brian France, but the entire thing.

Having a demolition derby every race and a crapshoot for the championship just isn’t my idea of a real sport.

Will France, Helton & Pemberton be satisfied when another driver is killed on the track in the mayhem that they have created?

01/31/2014 10:16 AM

After hearing the new chase format I canceled my plans to go to Darlington and Martinsville this year. Just going to the 3 races I paid for tickets to already then I will think very hard about renewing them.

01/31/2014 10:31 AM

I’m Done. Brian france you have totally wrecked this sport.Thanks for nothing. Is there no one in your circle of sycophants who will tell you just how dumb you and your ideas are? This sport has fallen so far in 15 years.

01/31/2014 12:04 PM

There’s one more. If there is bad weather and rain comes past halfway, is the last race going to run the full distance even if it means completing it the following day? Don’t recall any game 7’s not be played in their entirety.

JD in NC
01/31/2014 12:22 PM

I truly believe BZF is too stupid to get a job cleaning toilets, but here he is the CEO of a major American sport, just because he was BORN into that position. This “new” chase is utterly ridiculous. NASCAR is not the NFL, quit trying to create a playoff.

1)Drop the chase all together
2)Increase the points for winning by 10 or so
3)Have 21-43 place get 0 points to lessen the penalty for a “bad day.”
4)Maybe give a bonus point for the leader at the 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 laps of the race.

I’ve been a fan since the 70’s, but have spent more time lately reading F1 news. Thanks Brian for killing our (the core fans) sport.

01/31/2014 12:43 PM

My lord, what an F’n joke!

I’m DONE! I can’t take it anymore. Seriously. Nascar has sunk to the bottom. And because of that, I’m out.

01/31/2014 01:02 PM

i’m still pretty dumbfounded by this and I really am trying to be open minded. I first thought that the original idea of changing the chase was one of nascar’s trial ballons that rarely end up seeing the rule book. Then i wondered if they were trying to out-gimmick F1’s double points for the last few races rule. It looks good on paper and i hope it works to improve the racing but I just don’t see it working in practice. It would appear to me that winning the championship will still come down to who’s team “best plays the rules” and not who is the season’s best stockcar racing driver. This constant rejiggering of the championship system in my mind, does nothing but cement how inept the current management is at governing the “sport.” Sure, they seem to show current success in making money but how long is that going to last with a diluted product? Nascar seems to be putting all their emphasis on trying to force excitement into the championship. In my mind, the championship really isn’t that exciting at all. I think it’s the racing and races themselves that should be providing the excitement. That’s what people should be talking about. But there again they have fallen down with both the car and many of the facilities that they “compete” on. The car is subject to a strict rule book that attempts to keep the competition close but discourages broad innovation, the very thing needed to solve the trend of mundane races. They continue to run long format events at tracks that potentially seat many patrons but just do not yield great or even a good “racing product.” So what’s the solution? If you are willing to drastically change the sport and move into a new “era,” then drastically change the sport, don’t tweak it to death. The one thing that is clear to me is that Nascar has not found the way to retain the existing fan base while still attracting the new. It looks more like an attempt milk as much money through marketing tactics out of a business that is in it’s twilight. They just don’t seem to be ready to fix the real problems and are content to keep putting patches on a fairly leaky boat.

01/31/2014 01:03 PM

Now that I have had time to see the whole plan and digest it, these are my thoughts. 1. I like making winning the primary way into the Chase. Those with a bunch of points who can’t get a win are going to have to fight to get one or sweat bullets through Richmond. I’m ok with eliminations. They happen naturally anyway but I get it will be easier to understand and create big drama at the elimination races.

However, I hate the idea of one race winner take all at Homestead with no accrued benefit of any kind to the points leader or those that won races in the Chase. As pointed out, someone with 0 or 1 win can still win the Title. Hitting the reset button again and again doesn’t allow any separation for race winners. Is this likely, no, but it is possible. How about a rule that says you can’t be in the final 4 unless you have a win by Phoenix? Or, allow bonus points for wins in the final 4? The likely disaster scenario is a driver has a dominant season, gets to Homestead, gets taken out in a freak circumstance and a driver with an obviously inferior record wins it all.

I don’t like this change, but for some reason I’m really curious to see how it plays out.

01/31/2014 01:21 PM

Good posts everybody. I am just dumbfounded how this is now a reality. I really just don’t know what to say. This is beyond bad. People keep yesing this idiots ideas and this is what happens. Being born into a family of accomplishment clearly doesn’t mean you have the same brains, this guy is really worrisome in his thinking. All I can say is WOW!

Mike In NH
01/31/2014 01:35 PM

It’s interesting. Three articles on the new format went up today. One was just an announcement, it has zero comments. Mike Neff looks at the positive side, clearly stated in the article title, it has 3 comments. And this article, with a subject clearly stating it is a bad idea, has more than 10. And a lot of these comments are the angry “I am done” kind (with a few disparaging comments about Brian France tossed in).

It would seem to me, if people were reading both the pro and con articles to form an opinion, there would be more balance in how many comments each of the two have. This leads me to conclude that people are going to the article that simply re-affirms what they think. Which I guess is okay, and given what I have seen at this site, I wouldn’t have expected otherwise, but I think it underscores that there is nothing short of rolling us back to 2003 and getting rid of the Chase that would make a lot of people here happy, and they aren’t interested in giving any changes a chance. And that’s really too bad, because when you come across that intransigent, people stop trying to make you happy.

NASCAR is making changes based on the fact that they see ratings not growing and problems with attendance. Having the last races stick with the 2003 version of things where often it was clear two or three races before the end who the champ was is not exciting. Exciting sells in America these days. When they scripted Pixar’s “Cars”, did they set it up so that Lightning had to be good all year, maybe not even win, and be the champ? Of course not. There’s no drama there. Drama draws eyeballs to the stick and ball sports, and those sports are the ones that Americans prefer. And not just us: Formula One is doubling the points for the final race starting this season to add excitement. Would you have preferred that?

Whether these changes will do what NASCAR wants remains to be seen, but the only way we will know for sure is to give this format a chance and see how it goes. I wish more people would try that.

Bill H
01/31/2014 01:45 PM

Unfortunately, it’s going to work perfectly at doing what BZF is trying to do, which is suck money out of the pockets of people who have been watching races for ten years or less. These people are going to think it is as exciting as hell and are going to flock to the last ten races to see who will be “eliminated” in the “sweet sixteen,” the “elite eight” and the “final four.” Unable to outdo the NFL, he is taking on NCAA basketball. He will be calling it “Fall Madness” of something on that order with better alliteration.

01/31/2014 02:41 PM

Just as I suspected. DW was interviewed on RaceHub last night and tripped all over himself singing nascars praises. Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt and other deceased Nascar greats are rolling in their graves at the stupidity.

Mike in NH, some of these sites delete posts if they don’t fall in line with their agenda. Its happened to me before, so I only post on sites that allow me to express my opinion.

Listening to Brian France state that the fans want this is a joke. Where did he get his fan info? All I have seen is people clamoring for getting rid of the Chase altogether. Saying the fans wanted this is a slap in the face and a lie.

No disrespect to David Ragan, but I hope someone from a small team like his wins the title freakishly so Nascar can see what an idiotic setup this is.

Auto racing competing like its a stick and ball sport is about the dumbest thing I have ever seen/heard. That seems to be what the likes of DW/Larry Mac use to justify this ridiculousness. I’m not buying it.

You can bet the caution will fly with 20 to go now even more than before. If that’s what people want out of their racing, then I will find something else to do like watch more golf or baseball.

Spingate will be childs play compared to what about to come this fall. Be careful what you wish for.

01/31/2014 03:23 PM

All this because Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson have been stinking up the show the past 7 years or so. Well guess what! They’re going to continue to stink up the show until they have 8 Championships in their pocket. So might as well get use to it.Fret not though because that won’t take too much longer.

01/31/2014 03:41 PM

Will only increase the value of a win until you have one. Once any top level team wins a race; the rest of the pre-chase season becomes a test session. Then, the multi-car teams can concentrate on getting the other cars in. If NASCAR wants to value wins, all they had to do was increase the number of points one gets for a win.

Brian France Sucks
01/31/2014 05:32 PM

Want to change falling ratings? Bulldoze most of the 1.5’s, build short tracks in their place, put Iowa and Rockingham on the schedule, and quit manipulating races with bogus debris cautions. Its not complicated. FWIW Brian France looks like the chubby Kim leader from Korea.

01/31/2014 05:37 PM

Yep, as one poster indicated and it happens many many times in corporate world, The grandfather builds a company, the Dad takes over and makes it wildly successful, and the grandkid takes over and heads it into bankruptcy and a huge going out of business sale.
See any parallels?

The true race fans that brought NASCAR to success do want wins to matter but in the context of having the races themselves be more important than the overall season championship. Once again BrainFart screws over the fans that built the sport and disrespects their opinion and creates a monstrousity of epic proportions. I hope that the 16th place driver gets in without a win, and makes it into the final segment and wins the whole damn thing the first year. Makes one wonder what shenanigans NASCAR will pull out their phantom rulebook to screw over that team in the 34th, 35th race. To top it off in this case I hope JR. has his best year ever and no matter what historical points system is used he would have won the championship except for 2014 due to BrianFarts intelligent design. Talk about screwing the pooch. WOW.

P.S. Still hate the Chase format but liked the points setup change from 2011. Just reward winning more over the course of the season and have a 36 races champ.

01/31/2014 05:58 PM

Mike in NH- Ive been on a lot of sites and read and understand the new format. I have had 4 posts with no foul or abusive language removed. I have no problem with change. I wasnt crazy about the chase, but I havent missed watching a race since its inception. However, the new format is so fundamentally flawed, it seems as if it was thought up and finalized in a couple of hours. To think a title hinges on one race, with so many variables, is heartbreaking for a 30 year fan of the sport. In the 90s you had to be great in every race. Since 04, they shortened it, you had to be good in 10 straight races. Now you only have to be good in 1 race? Its kinda like saying a guy who works at Mcdonalds has a resume worthy of a job at Google. Its stupid Mike! Stewart making the final four and blowing a tire on lap 110 is the equivalent of taking Lebrons shoes at halftime of game 7 and making him play the 2nd half in socks. Bottom line is after this year this format will be old news and the new fans they hoped to attract will simply tune out. I like the NBA and NFL, but I only watch a fraction of the games, because my true love is racing. New fans will be no different. And to be kept in the dark and surprised with no input whatsoever feels like a slap in the face. Thats why the diehards are so mad. Just so you know.

Moe Foe
01/31/2014 10:20 PM

OK, the last chase driver, ol’#16, has no reason to race at all, except for sponsors. Some motivation there. He’s gonna be in 16th, no matter what he does, for the next 7 races. Taking out the leader would give the sponsor some air time and not affect his position in the final standings. Ummm, did they think that one out?

01/31/2014 10:45 PM

I agree with most of the post today. If anyone really want to find out why this sport of Nascar has fallen, just go back to when The all look-a-like cars that had to pass inspection with one fits all tool.(around 2000-03) They all looked the same with only decals making different manufacturer. Then came “The Car of tomorrow” Results=diaster. Then the Chase, then the tinkering with the chase. instead of increase in fans, it became a decrease. Big Bill France is turning over in his grave over all the dumb ideas his grandson has done to this sport and “My Opinion” will continue to distroy Nascar. Note, under this new system a driver with no wins can still win the championship. Brian France will not like that. The only thing Nascar has done in the last 14 years on a positive side is getting the the cars starting to look like the manufactured that someone can go to the showroom to purchase. Nascar did not get to where it was up to the mid-nineties by copying the the stick and ball sports. Keep tinkering, Mr France, till there won’t be nothing left.

Seven in sight
02/01/2014 02:48 PM

Chad already designing and working on the one and done Homestead “Winning Car” that will only be raced in the finale. J.J. and Chad to use all 2014 test dates at Homestead under the lights. Trophy # 7 is only 9 months away.

02/01/2014 04:56 PM

These yearly changes to the championship rules, which always seems to add new gimmicks, makes the big title less legitimate every year. It’s ironic that the more emphasis France puts on winning the championship, the phonier it seems and the less it means to win it. He talks of making the rules simpler, yet somehow they keep getting more complex. It feels like the increasingly desperate acts of a man frantically trying to salvage a sinking ship. But the more he patches it, the faster it sinks.

Daniel Curtis
02/01/2014 09:02 PM

All of you whiners need to just go and stay away. The time for you to run from the sport forever is when NASCAR created the Chase in the first place. They took a crap playoff idea and made it a good one and are using it now. How is that a bad thing? I do think they should give a trophy to the regular season champion for sure, that is a major accomplishment and is more like what Earnhardt and Gordon had to do for their trophies. But other than that this works and will be fun to watch! See ya, won’t miss you guts.

Bill B
02/03/2014 09:10 AM

I am in the same boat as Gina. The only reason I am still watching races is because I have loyalty issues. It was Jeff Gordon that got me hooked on NASCAR and I watch strictly out of loyalty to him. I can count the races I’ve missed since I started watching races (1996) on one hand.
I always thought I’d dread the day when Gordon retired but, on the positive side, also thought it might usher in a new era of objectivity in following NASCAR to make me a better fan.
However, in the last few years I’ve realized that I am looking forward to Gordon retiring just so I can wash my hands of this whole deal.
Once Jeff retires I will be; “Free at last, free at last, free at last” and then Brian can cram the whole thing up his…..

Bill B
02/03/2014 09:17 AM

And, to Daniel Curtis…
Judging by the comments in this article, if the whiners would go away you’d be the only commentor (which kind of mirrors ratings and attendance since Deusch-Bag Brian took over)
Keep in mind that it is YOUR opinion that “They took a crap playoff idea and made it a good one and are using it now.” The rest of us have an opinion that they created a crap playoff system that wasn’t necessary and didn’t suit the nature of the sports and continue to make it crapier.

Carl D.
02/03/2014 10:14 AM

Another great article, Amy. While I think I like the new format better than the previous one, I’d still prefer no chase at all.

I’m not going to lie to myself and claim I’ll never watch another Nascar race; being a Nascar fan is part of who I am. Even though I DVR the races so I don’t have to endure the endless commercials, I don’t miss too many races (just a few cookie cutter ones). I’ll give the new format a chance to win me over even though I doubt that’s possible. And if the new format sucks, I’ll be here every Monday to vent my frustrations.

One final thought… from the comments it seems some fans think the new format was designed to help Hendrick teams while others think it was designed to keep Johnson from winning another championship. Personally, I don’t think Hendrick or Johnson has anything to do with it. I just think Brian France is a narcissist who likes to think he’s a visionary and he’s to stupid realize that he’s not.

02/03/2014 01:48 PM

Perhaps the NFL should take a look at NASCAR’s playbook following one of the worst Super Bowls in history. If the NFL would throw something like a debris caution at the two minute warning, reset the points to zero, it would be an exciting finish every time. Come on France, do America a favor and retire.

02/03/2014 02:45 PM

After watching the Stupor Bowl it seems to me that NASCAR “races” have the same entertainment value. Maybe NASCAR can make their commercials the only reason to watch.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.