The Frontstretch: Be Careful What You Ask For - The New Chase Format Just Might Deliver by Mike Neff -- Friday January 31, 2014

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After the rumor was posted last week NASCAR was considering making a radical change to the Chase – in particular, having one race settle the final outcome of the entire Sprint Cup season – most of the fans who commented about the idea were staunchly against it. The details weren’t available, beyond some bare bones basics (i.e. – 16 drivers entered into the “new” playoff system) so the assumptions that were made ran the gamut. One thing was abundantly clear, though; enough was enough and making another change to the Chase was the last straw. The fan base was ready to abandon ship like so many rats.

Jimmie Johnson is among those drivers in favor of NASCAR’s radical Chase changes announced Thursday. And he’s not alone.

However, a strange thing happened on the way to the scuttling. Brian France took to the podium at the Sprint NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway Thursday and detailed a plan that took care of all of the points but one that fans have disliked about the Chase system. The only objection to the playoffs that isn’t answered is for those people who want to see a full-season champion. NASCAR’s title is still based on the final 10 races of the season and, for now, that is not going to change.

However, among the questions that have now been answered positively include making winning a priority. Up to 16 winners in the first 26 races of the season will be automatically entered in the Chase unless the point leader after Richmond doesn’t have a win. Then, only 15 will be in and the 16th spot will be rewarded to the point leader. Fans have repeatedly voiced concern that drivers spend all of their time point racing and little to no time focusing on winning. Now, winning a race will all but guarantee a shot at the title. People will be encouraged to take chances, gamble on fuel, stretch tires, and push themselves beyond limits to attempt to grab the win that will lock them in. The new rules have not ended point racing, but they have given a much easier way to make it into the Chase than knocking out top-10 finishes.

Drivers, especially in recent years are afraid to go for wins in the Chase because one bad finish can ruin their chances at a title. These adjustments should go a long way towards changing their postseason thinking. Now, drivers are in control of their own destiny and can dig out of any hole except a poor finish at the end of a segment in which they don’t have a win. A bad finish in the first or second race of a segment, or even both races, can be overcome by a victory in the last that moves them on directly into the next round. No longer does a blown tire or a wreck not of one’s own doing instantly doom the title-winning chances of a driver. Racers and their teams now hold their destiny in their own hands, not the lines in the scoring section of the rulebook.

Fans have also wanted to see an even simpler way to crown a champion. The final race of the Chase cannot be any simpler. There’s no bonus points, so trying to lead the most laps won’t make a difference. The simple fact is, if you are the highest-finishing of the four drivers eligible for the title, you win. No graphics for points as they run now. No laps led boards. Four drivers, one race: finish in front of the other three and you are the winner.

Finally, fans have told NASCAR that they wanted to see more drivers with a shot at the title. The field has been expanded to 16 drivers. Well, that is more than half of the group who attempted to run the full 36-race schedule last season. While some might view that as too many, others have asked to see more variety in the title hunt and NASCAR has responded.

The elimination aspect of this bracket style “playoff” is going to provide Richmond-like excitement four times over the final 10 races. Drivers will be able to advance by being the best over a three-race segment without a win. If they are able to win a race, they don’t have to worry about the points and can tweak their cars, test some new setups, or simply go for a second win to break the spirit of their competitors.

As for the racers themselves, they’ll have to be up on the wheel from the beginning of the Chase until the end. Points will be reset for each segment, so drivers cannot rest on their success for long before they are back with the rest of the teams who have advanced to the next segment. At the end of the Chase, the Champion will truly be the driver who performed best when the chips were down. No longer does the driver who can pile up top-5 finishes win the title automatically. They have to go for the win or risk being left behind.

There is no doubt that situations could arise where a driver who deserves the title runs into bad luck at Homestead or a rough three races in the middle of the Chase while winning six or seven events. It could happen with the current points as well. Any scenario that skews a finish in the Chase to someone with fewer points scored or wins can happen in any point system. However, more than likely, this system is going to provide a driver who pushes the envelope and does all he or she can to finish at the front with the Sprint Cup.

For fans who are going to leave the sport behind because “they are done,” well, there isn’t much you can do to keep them around. However, for the fans who are willing to have an open mind, they just might see a title run that is fairer and more exciting than what we’ve seen for the last ten years.

THE OTHER VIEWPOINTAMY HENDERSON: Five Reasons New Chase Could Turn Disastrous

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Bill B
01/31/2014 07:00 AM

Who are these fans asking for this change? The only change I’ve ever heard a sizeable group of fans ask for is the return to the year long format. I guess most of those fans asking for this change are the silent majority because they don’t comment much on the internet.

01/31/2014 08:33 AM

Question: if only 8 drivers win races during the first 26 races, is the Chase field filled with the 8 non-winning drivers with the most points?

Mike Neff
01/31/2014 10:37 AM

That question has come up from many fans Steve. Yes, if there are fewer than 16 race winners, the top points earners who have not won a race will be in the remaining spots. In your scenario, the eight drivers that are the highest in points without a win would fill the remaining eight spots.

If you’d like a visual aid to help understand it, check out

It is also located on the Frontstretch Facebook page.

01/31/2014 01:33 PM

Brain France has selective hearing and is now using the mantra “you wanted change, here it is”. Well Brian fans have been complaining about “The Chase” for years. What fans wanted was a 36 race champion. Nascar doesn’t need gimmicks or playoffs. I already feel bad for the drivers in the “last race take all format”, so many things wrong with this where to start. Sad times for a once great sport. Brian if you and your yes goons opened your eyes and ears you would see the product on the track every week is lacking, fix that and the rest will follow. It is still going to be a snorefest follow the leader. I don’t like where this is heading at all. Also the qualifying format is bad, all I can see is another expsense to teams to fix wrecked race cars, in freaking qualifying. Why does everything have to be “exciting” and have fireworks. Qualify and lets have a good race. That is the entertainment. Also I bristle at the 26 race speak, the season is 36.

Sue Rarick
01/31/2014 01:46 PM

Here is a fun thought… What if it rains???

That would pretty much screw up that 7th inning moment.

01/31/2014 02:50 PM

Sue, I’m sure you meant 7th game but you make a good point. I know you are talking about Homestead, but what about the rest of the season? What if a race ends early because of rain and say Dave Blaney is out front because he is gambling on the weather? Will he make the Chase because of it? Or will they make a rule that all races have to go 100% to completion to avoid such things?

Its also possible that of the 4 competing in the last race all get in a pileup and the champion could end up finishing in 31st place at Homestead. These scenarios aren’t likely but they are possible.

01/31/2014 06:28 PM

Well, many of the scenarios posted here and elsewhere are no different than what can happen in the NFL or NCAA “March Madness”.

In the NFL, you can win all 16 regular season games, yet have a few fluke plays go against you and not win the superbowl. Or, remember when the Patriots were 18-0 heading into the Super Bowl. Everyone was crowning them the champs. Except, the New York Giants who beat them.

And, a 9-7 team can win the Super Bowl though not likely.

The main reason that this is more of a problem in auto racing is that their are many more things that can go wrong outside of your control.

02/01/2014 02:26 AM

kb, in 2003, fans complained when Kenseth won a single race and ran.away with the title. Now we’ve got this 11 year long experiment. So, yeah, we kinda asked for this. Now, you guys are complaining again. If you “fans” keep complaining, stop watching, become a fan of another sport & keep complaining until you ruin that one, too.

I’m on the fence with this one as well. It could work, it could fail. I’m not dismissing it yet, though. Not until I’ve seen what happens.

NASCAR couldn’t stick with the pre-Chase format, though. As a rule, a sport needs to constantly evolve or disappear. Who knows? Maybe without the Chase, the sport might have vanished not long after Winston left. But, it needs to evolve. All the sports need to. Yeah, NASCAR has struggled with this format, but look at other sports. NFL has gotten stricter, Hockey is trying to limit fighting. Even in other forms of motorsports, whether the IRL/Cart merger or whatnot each sport is constantly evolving, which is what NASCAR is trying to do. They just seem to be somewhat insecure about it. The qualifying change was their first great change outside of the Gen 6 car recently. Maybe this will be, too. We’ll find out.

02/03/2014 02:13 PM

MidTN the argument of the 18-0 Patriots does not compute. The Patriots did not play all the other teams each week and therefore we don’t know who the best team or second best or 10th best was each week each season. Racing is different, we know exactly who was best, second and 10th. In racing we have the luxury of knowing exactly how each team performed each week, each season. To ignore this, to trade this for the the illusion of excitement is wrong. The comparisons to stick and ball championships is just not valid.

02/03/2014 06:35 PM

Mike, Your last sentence describes the new format as more fair. Was this a mistake or can you help me understand what is fair about the 4th best team winning the championship or giving 16th place 300 points to make the show more exciting?

Mike Neff
02/03/2014 06:50 PM

Thanks for the comment Jerry.

My statement refers to the fact that, with the new system, one bad race does not destroy a driver’s entire post season run. I think it is fairer that a driver who has a solid run over the final 10 races, and wins four of them, should win the title even if they blow an engine at Martinsville. The format used the last 10 years could easily see a driver win four races and lose the title because of such a catastrophic failure.

I also think, the fourth best team, if they’re able to get to that final race and out perform the other three teams, has shown they deserve the title. You aren’t going to luck into the final race.

02/05/2014 09:13 AM

Mike, OK I can see your point but can’t agree. The intent of this whole thing is to increase excitement and there never was a “Fair” checkbox. You simply can’t be fair to all when gifting welfare points to some. Please cease and desist spinning. You and other’s argument in favor of this should be limited to “I prefer guaranteed manufactured excitement all the time over true sport and excitement that comes naturally once in a while”. I can’t think of any other sport that gerrymanders a game or season to the extent of NASCAR. At some point NASCAR will lose the right to be described as a sport. I think they’ve reached that point already. You may be on the right side of the argument though, NASCAR ratings may go through the roof…time will tell.


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