The Frontstretch: Ragan's First Win Presents Problems With NASCAR's New Chase Format by Garrett Horton -- Thursday July 7, 2011

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Ragan's First Win Presents Problems With NASCAR's New Chase Format

Going Green · Garrett Horton · Thursday July 7, 2011


Last Saturday was a huge night for David Ragan. After going 0-162 in his previous races, he finally scored his first career points paying victory in Sprint Cup competition. His triumph was more than just getting to the winner’s circle, however; it was about returning to Daytona to avenge his loss in this year’s 500, when NASCAR penalized him for changing lanes before the restart as the leader. By winning, his job security increased to the point that maybe, just maybe, he will return to Roush Fenway Racing for another year. Not to mention his win has him currently sitting in the 12th and final spot for the Chase as the second wild card driver.

Really? David Ragan in the Chase? Well, there are still a few races left for things to change, but this was my major concern with NASCAR’s new rule. A driver picking up one win while having a mediocre year does not deserve to be in the Chase. To ease those fears of mine, NASCAR declared in the off season that you have to be somewhat competitive to qualify for the wildcard seeds, 20th or higher in the points after race 26. It has been an exciting change so far, as it seems there have been many more upsets this season than in previous ones. Is that because of the new rule change? In the case of Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski’s stunning upsets, it would be safe to say yes. For Bayne and now Ragan, you could argue it’s simply a product of restrictor plate racing. Either way, 2011 has been filled with surprising stories.

Still, despite claiming the trophy in the Coke Zero 400, Ragan is just 18th in points, behind major players like Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, and Juan Montoya. As it stands now though, Ragan would jump them in the Chase because of his victory. Whether that is fair or not is for another discussion. The concern right now is whether he can add any competition to the Chase.

David Ragan is currently a frontrunner for a wild card Chase berth despite a 2011 season that still sees the driver of the No. 6 plagued with inconsistency.

Given his history, probably not. Even though he is arguably having a career year, Ragan still has had terrible inconsistency in 2011 – he doesn’t have more than two consecutive top 10s at any point this season. If he can’t string good finishes together, there is no way he will be a factor in the Chase. Because of that, it feels like a wasted spot.

In these cases, I love being proved wrong, but Ragan needs to start being more consistent before he can be taken seriously. In fact, he will HAVE to get some consistent finishes; between Stewart, Biffle, and Montoya, they will likely accrue at least one victory before Chicago in September. Ragan has nine races left to prove he can make some noise in the fall.

Perhaps the bigger problem with the new wildcard rule is the fact certain drivers may actually be more conservative as opposed to going all out for a victory. For example, Matt Kenseth seemed pretty content pushing his teammate to the checkered flag last week. This wasn’t Talladega, where it was four wide, two deep for the finish, either. He easily could have gone high at the last second to try and steal the win, as no one was outside of the duo. He didn’t even think about it, and one can’t help but wonder if it was team orders. Kenseth is safe inside the top 10 along with two wins to fall back on if needed.

Ragan on the other hand was barely in the top 20 going into Daytona with no victories. For car owner Jack Roush, it makes sense to have Kenseth push Ragan as hard as he can. To be fair, Kenseth is not known for an aggressive driving style; he might have been hoping for just a solid outing at Daytona, so perhaps we can give him the benefit of the doubt. Regardless, the thought of such blatant team orders is now plausible, and will probably pop up again before the Chase.

Just look at top 20 drivers Paul Menard, Joey Logano, Mark Martin and Biffle. What do they all have in common? They have at least one teammate who pretty much has a Chase spot locked up. What’s going to happen at Richmond if, say Logano is running second to one of his Joe Gibbs teammates and needs just one win to make the Chase? Gibbs would be crazy not to instruct Kyle Busch or Denny Hamlin to pull aside to give Logano the victory. From a racing standpoint that is ridiculous, but these are the new rules we are dealing with. Maybe we won’t see it happen this year (unless you want to say it already did at Daytona), but I guarantee it will occur down the road.

As NASCAR can’t seem to have a system in place for more than one straight year these days, expect them to tweak it eventually. What the best option is, who knows. Obviously, many fans would say to scrap the Chase altogether and just go back to the old system (that is, until Kenseth builds up a 400 point cushion like he did in 2003, but I digress).

With the playoffs here to stay, NASCAR has it pretty close. They need to fix the potential issues like we witnessed at Daytona though. How do they do that? My suggestion would be two things – cut the number of chasers from 12 to 10, with the top eight making it on points and the final two spots reserved for the drivers with the most wins outside the top eight (keep the inside the top 20 deal). By doing this, it would obviously be harder to make the Chase, and therefore, increase the value of winning. Settling for second as you let your teammate finish first would likely be less of an issue. It would make it less likely that one win would put a driver in the Chase as well. Two or three first place finishes would be the ideal amount to get locked in.

Next, increase the bonus points for a win. Not in the regular season, but for the post-season. Right now, a victory in the first 26 races gives you a one point bonus for the final 10 events. Make it three or five. Anything higher would be too much, and defeat the purpose of resetting the field after 26 races. Three to five bonus points per win isn’t an extreme amount, but it certainly would make it difficult for someone to be content with second, as Kenseth was last Saturday. It would make going for the win much more tempting. NASCAR has been doing pretty good as of late at rewarding victories, but they need to throw out just a little more incentive. In the meantime, these final nine races before the Chase are going to be wild, and Ragan’s upset win has put the pressure on some big names to step up.

Contact Garrett Horton

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07/08/2011 10:43 AM

Ragan’s win isn’t a problem with the new format. Resetting the points after 26 races is a problem with the format. Giving points to the 12th place car to make him equal to the leader is a problem with the format. The champion not necessarily scoring the most points on the racetrack is a problem with the format. Ragan’s win putting him (provisionally) in the championship hunt is perhaps the only thing that isn’t a problem with this format.

Garrett Horton
07/08/2011 10:46 AM


It sounds like you are part of this group:

“What the best option is, who knows. Obviously, many fans would say to scrap the Chase altogether and just go back to the old system”

07/08/2011 11:05 AM

You say Ragan having a spot in the chase would be a waste but if gets in above some of those guys you mentioned it means they weren’t in the top ten in points AND didn’t have a win this year. I know some of those guys are established veterans and winners but if they can’t make it into the top ten or win a race then THEY don’t deserve to be in the chase.

Michael in SoCal
07/08/2011 11:08 AM

I have no problem with the resetting of points when the Chase starts. That’s how a playoff system works. I do agree that winning should be rewarded with a larger bonus – a 10 point bonus for winning would be a pretty big deal, and it might have made Kenseth think a little bit about jumping out from behind Ragan last week.

And to those who say that the Chase makes 31 drivers on the track irrelevant, they have just as much chance of winning the race as any of the Chase drivers, so how are they irrelevant (especially this year with the large number of surprise winners we’ve had)? If you’re going to say TV coverage pays them no attention, I won’t disagree with you, but that is an issue that should be taken up with the broadcast people. Racing is a unique sport in that the non-championship contenders are still active during the playoffs. For the non-Chase drivers, they may no longer be able to win the championship, but they can still win a race or two.

07/08/2011 11:11 AM

Giving everyone the same car. Check (COT)

Giving qualifying spots away. Check (Top 35 rule)

Giving spots back on the track. Check (Wave around rule)

Giving laps back. Check (lucky dog rule)

Giving championship points away. Check. (the chase)

NASCAR is giving everything away these days. These guys are making millions of dollars and dont even have to work for it. Just show up for work and ride around for a few hours, and help sell your sponsor’s product.

And people wonder why everyone is staying home, and NOT tuning in?

Ray Charles can see whats wrong with this picture!

Carl D.
07/08/2011 11:54 AM

I agree with Justin. If Ragan makes the chase with one win over more established veterans who are outside the top ten with no wins, what’s the problem? If Biffle or Stewart want to make the chase, they can do what Ragan did… go out and win a race.

Also, if a driver like Kenseth would rather help a teammate get a win than to actually go for the win himself, that says something about the chase.

07/08/2011 12:38 PM

How about they just scrap the current points configuration period? How about scraping the top 35 qualifying guarantee? Only score points for the top twenty in any particular race? How about to get into the Chase you need to have at least one win? And with each subsequent win and you get a seeding bonus of 10 points for your next win and doubling it for every win there after—which you keep when the Chase field is reset.

07/08/2011 01:39 PM

KyCupFan-How come you can see the obvious but Brian France and NASCAR can’t?

Carl D.
07/08/2011 01:52 PM

I’m not even sure this is worth debating. Other than in its inaugural year when Kurt Busch started the chase in 7th place, the eventual champion has been in the top three going into the chase. Drivers who barely make the chase are never a legitimate threat once it starts. That said, I actually thought Clint Bowyer had a shot last year, but Nascar penalized the team right out of the picture.

07/08/2011 02:18 PM

NASCAR needs to scrap the COT and the Chase.
Go back to racing street cars and to add spice to the races, require each driver to have at least 2 beers and a hotdog with all the trimmings 5 minutes before the race.
I realize that would be politically incorrect but what the hell, it sure would be fun to watch.
Better than the crap the fans are having to put up with now.

07/08/2011 05:53 PM

A win the 26 week season gets you 3 bonus pts. for the 10 race season. If you’re in the top 10 that is. The 2 Wild Card drivers will start with 2000 pts. Lets say one of the drivers in the top 10 has 5 wins after 26 races. He will start the Chase with 2015 pts. 2000 + the 5 win bonus pts.(which is 3 pts. each win) and thus 15 extra pts. Not quite 1 bonus pt. per win.

Steve S
07/08/2011 06:44 PM

Wow, this new 10+ 2 with most wins was put in place because Jr & Gordon didn’t make the chase and now that they are in the top ten it is wrong! What if it was Gordon in 14th and JR in 18th each with a win? I bet that would be fine.

The whole system is wrong, it always was the most consistent ALL season accumulated the most points and was the Champion. I work on a late model that runs a weekly nascar series and that is how our points still work. If the chase is so good then how come nascar has not made all their classes go to it? It’s all about the $$$$$$

Garrett Horton
07/08/2011 06:59 PM


I am quite embarrassed; you are right, it is three bonus points a win that go towards the Chase, not one as I had originally said. I apologize for the error.

Obviously, that means my theory needs some changing. So how about a five to seven point bonus for the win? Yes, I prefer the old system like many of you, but this is what we have and it doesn’t bother me enough to stop watching.

07/08/2011 07:35 PM

i’ve never liked the new chase points since day one just because someone who has been consistent but was out by 1 point is trumped by one person who could be 400 points out and basically doesn’t deserve to get in because of plate race luck winning

granted i still don’t like the chase period

07/09/2011 01:19 PM

Yep, I guess I fit rather nicely in that group!

Michael in SoCal-
Resetting the points at the beginning of a playoff is about how it works, yes… but the need for playoffs in other sports is because only two teams show up to play against each other each match. Teams will play more games against other teams in the same league and same division, so a playoff prevents a team that wins the most games in a weak division from winning a championship if it can’t beat a team that has fewer wins, but plays in a stronger division. In NASCAR, every team shows up and runs every race, so there is no need for a playoff.