Brian France held a press conference in Daytona today. Part of what he discussed was tweaks to the Chase to the Championship format for the Nextel Cup Series. He believes that after three years, the time has come to evaluate suggestions that have been proposed over the last two and a half years to somehow make the Chase better. There have certainly been quite a few suggestions over the life of the Chase, but it is hard to believe that any tweaks will please everyone.
Let's look at what NASCAR might be considering:
1)*Get rid of it*. There's an idea; go back to the good old days where the purpose of racing for a whole season was to determine the champion. It wasn't to come up with some contrived race to the finish over the last few races that gave a driver who was mathematically eliminated from contention under the “old” point system the opportunity to win a championship away from someone who dominated a series for an entire year. This change won't happen, though. There has been too much time and money invested to allow the experiment to be scrapped, not to mention it would also mean that NASCAR would admit that the Chase was a bad idea, and we all know that isn't going to happen.
2)*Reward winning with more points than are currently awarded*. This is an idea that has quite a bit of merit. There should be a premium placed on winning in the series, and the current point system simply doesn't promote winning. The difference between first and second can be as little as five points under the current system. There was an idea floated last year to give anyone who wins a race a 500 point bonus. You would only receive it for winning your first race of the year. The bonus would separate winners from people who consistently finish in the Top 10. It would be a significant incentive to drivers trying to make the Chase and would certainly add some excitement to the end of most races, especially those that are close to the Chase cut off.
3)*Allow drivers to throw away their two worst finishes of the year.* This is a suggestion that would encourage drivers who are injured to not push themselves to get back in the car immediately after their injury. Points could still be awarded as they are today to the person who starts the race, so that drivers could start and then have a sub. However, if the substitute driver didn't perform well, the race could conceivably be one of the races discarded for a driver. This would also allow someone who crashes a car the luxury of not coming back out and running laps in a damaged car simply to gather whatever points they possibly can.
4)*Standardize points for people finishing lower than 30th.* This suggestion is a good piggyback to the previous idea; award the same points to the drivers who finish 30th through 43rd. This is a fantastic idea to eliminate the rolling wrecks that are a primary cause for so many debris cautions throughout the year. If a car is involved in a wreck that will require significant time to fix, the team will not feel pressured to get the car back on the track to attempt to garner points. When finishing 40th results in the same points as finishing 32nd, there won't be any reason for damaged cars to be put back in the track. That will hopefully reduce debris cautions and all but eliminate the need for a competitive speed rule to be enforced.
5)*Afford Chase drivers their own point system during the final 10 races*. The purpose of the Chase was to have a race to the finish among the eligible drivers that would offer them a nearly equal chance of winning the championship. The experience in the two previous Chases has shown that a driver can only have one bad race and realistically expect to have a shot at the championship. If the drivers have more than one finish of 30th or worse, their hopes for a title are dashed. If the Chase drivers had their own point system, though, a bad race would merely mean that they would receive the fewest points of the Chase competitors. Two or three bad races would not eliminate a competitor from Chase contention. With that type of system in place, there would be a distinct possibility that six or seven drivers could easily be mathematically eligible for the championship heading into the final race of the year.
Like it or not, the Chase is a necessary evil that NASCAR is going to have in place for the foreseeable future. The first year was a resounding success, but last year was a bit of a runaway, and there is certainly some room for adjustment going forward. It will be interesting to see what changes are going to be proposed by NASCAR for the Chase in 2007. Hopefully there will be changes made that will make the race to that championship more exciting, and afford more drivers the opportunity to win the title in the final race at Homestead.
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