The Frontstretch: Uncovering the Truth About NASCAR's Proposed Chase Changes by Vito Pugliese -- Wednesday October 13, 2010

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Uncovering the Truth About NASCAR's Proposed Chase Changes

Voice of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Wednesday October 13, 2010


The NASCAR Chase format is about as polarizing as things come these days. Think Kyle Busch driving Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, and you get the idea. Originally envisioned as the vehicle that would help NASCAR keep pace with the NFL during the fall months by preventing the championship snoozefests of 2000 and 2003, it has also had the unintended consequence of alienating longtime fans, failing to capture the imagination of the uninitiated, and producing the same champion for the last four years.

As a counterpoint to all of the carping and moaning this year regarding the futility of the Chase has been the common refrain that “this will be the closest championship fight in history!” Never before has a field been so close to produce such close racing and a title battle that will be chock full of – wait for it – DRAMA. There is enough ammunition for either side to go each way in this discussion and with it, there are a number of Chase myths and truths for each side to hang their hat on.

Myth or Fact: Replacing Auto Club Speedway with Chicagoland will improve the Chase

Though Chicagoland Speedway is in the type of media market that sports marketers dream of, the competition provided by football and baseball in Chicago just may prove too much for NASCAR to handle.

File this one under picking the leper with the most fingers. After years of producing the kind of parades witnessed only on Thanksgiving Day or prior to the Rose Bowl, Auto Club Speedway in its swan song of hosting two Sprint Cup events finally produced some decent racing – albeit a bit contrived after throwing a caution for what looked like a water bottle on the backstretch. While Loudon will remain a Chase track, the series is trading concrete for corruption, ditching SoCal for the Windy City instead.

The thinking is that by shuffling some dates and starting off in a new major market, it will help engender more support and excitement for NASCAR’s 10-week playoff. Right. Just hope the Bears aren’t playing at home that weekend, or that the true sign of the apocalypse hasn’t reared its head: the Cubs making a run towards the postseason. And I am not going to include the White Sox in the discussion, since as a Tigers fan, that is not an option I am willing to entertain. Ever.

If Chicagoland couldn’t get 68,000 people out to the track on a Saturday night in the middle of summer, what do they think is going to happen on one of the last few good weekends of the year? Memo to Daytona Beach: This isn’t Daytona Beach. We get five months of decent weather a year up around these parts – tops – and playing chicken with the NFL in the kielbasa capital of North America is not going to win the hearts of the natives.

Verdict: Myth

Fact or Myth: Rotating tracks will help spur Chase interest

Since 2003, the title of the Cup championship trophy has gone by three different names under three different points systems, at the same tracks over and over – save for Rockingham, Darlington and Atlanta (moment of silence, please). Just as it sometimes helps to get some new blood in the booth, mixing up the tracks the championship is decided on could generate some new enthusiasm or potentially change the outcome.

I’ve always been of the opinion this move would be a positive, if simply to change up the landscape and spark some interest for many longtime tracks that are largely removed from deciding a champion with the new format. Pocono, Michigan, Darlington, and Daytona have all had their say by the time the teams get to Richmond in September. By then, all but a couple of spots in the top 12 have already been decided. There still is no road course race in the Chase, despite the popularly held belief that a true champion excels on all tracks, not just 1.5-mile ovals and a roll of the dice at Talladega. Besides, how cool would Watkins Glen look this weekend, trees ablaze in yellow and orange providing a vivid backdrop to the blue Armco and ribbon of asphalt in upstate New York?

Many also cite the current track schedule as the real reason Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team have managed to win four consecutive championships in an era that is largely regarded as the closest and most competitive in history. This theory is bunk if I’ve ever heard it. Not sure if you haven’t noticed, but every track is pretty much J.J. and company’s best tracks. Four wins in Las Vegas, three at Indy, and a pair at Pocono for non-Chase venues, while he manages to win at Charlotte, Dover, and Martinsville no matter what time of year it is.

Still think that replacing Auto Club with Chicago is going to have much of an impact on hamstringing the No. 48? The last four races at Chicago, they’ve led 247 laps, so it’s only a matter of time before he scratches that one off the list, too.

Verdict: Fact

Fact or Myth: An elimination-style format is what is needed to save the Chase

If there has been a recurring theme among those opining on how to make the Chase work, is that an elimination round is what is needed to create more excitement and – wait for it – DRAMA. After all, it works for the NCAA in basketball, so why wouldn’t it work here? The three lowest-ranked drivers after two races would be dropped from contention and more drivers would be eliminated until you got down to five that would decide the title among themselves. At that point, another possible resetting of the points (again) would set the stage for that “Game Seven Moment” that a certain luminary of the sport longs for.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this one and what my take is going to be.

To make this work, it is believed the field would be expanded to 15 drivers, which at that point I say, why not make it 30, give everybody a participant trophy and some orange slices and call it a day. Some say it is to give more exposure to more teams that feel left out in the cold this time of year after not making the Chase. Others contend it is to ensure that the sport’s most popular driver who hasn’t won in two years is also included in the mix. Truth be told, even under those lax standards for championship contender status, a driver would not be in the mix or even remotely in the conversation.

I’m still having trouble coming to grips on how being over 400 points out of the lead, or sitting in 11th place with 10 races left, somehow conveys an air of championship material.

Verdict: Myth

After the mutual meltdown following the ratings dive after Kansas, everybody was clamoring for answers of what was wrong and what was needed to fix what has been broken for over six years. The best that we can hope for is some good racing in the interim until some meaningful changes are made.

Until that time, the notion that the Chase format was one that was going to work and help NASCAR compete with the NFL and MLB during the heart of their seasons will remain little more than a myth. And that’s a fact.

Wednesday on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Spoiling The Oil Sponsor Party, Home Is Where The Heart Breaks, And Speaking Up
Mirror Driving: Nationwide Chaos, Chase Rebounders, And Turn Off The Testing Ban?
Beyond the Cockpit: Dissecting The Thoughts of A Racing Champion Anew
Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Top 15 After Fontana
Top 10 Unconventional Brian France Flag Calls
The Frontstretch Foto Funnies – Fontana, October 2010
Carey and Coffey: Too Little, Too Late For Fontana?

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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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Bill B
10/13/2010 07:25 AM

Yep, NASCAR can keep trying but it won’t make a difference because they are trying to force a playoff system in a sport in which a playoff system doesn’t fit. Keep pollishing that turd NASCAR.

Stephen HOOD
10/13/2010 08:00 AM

My sense is NASCAR needs to somehow get back to racing—to make every weekend event a “big event.” In order to protect the owner points system of top 35, NASCAR could adopt a driver points system similar to F1, where only the top 5 or 10 drivers are awarded points and the points are in the single digit range each race. This would keep the championship closer and I think the field would be fairly tight at the end of the year. I think the ten race championship “Chase” had some merit, but hasn’t proven to be a fan favorite. As I’ve commented before, I go to Talladega to watch plate track racing. I don’t want to see Johnson and Hamlin sitting in the back trying to salvage a good points day. I pay $120 per ticket to see racing, not points strategy. My guess the guy who buys tickets to Fontana, Texas, et al wants the same.

10/13/2010 09:05 AM

The Chase is the worst way to determine a champion in any professional sport, and you can throw in college football on top of that (and that is stiff competition).

But an elimination format, that just reaches new levels of idiotic.

Is NASCAR seriously considering having a race at Homestead with 43 cars and only two that matter, and calling it a “game seven moment”?

I can’t find the words. Oh, wait, here’s one: “laughingstock”.

10/13/2010 09:26 AM

It cannot be mended. It must be ended.

10/13/2010 12:05 PM

I have met numerous fans this year who planned on boycotting the Chase. I have joined them, as have my friends. I will be skipping Charlotte this weekend for the first time in over a decade, and have not watched since Richmond. The fans are speaking up, the Chase must go, Mr. France are you listening? We need to show that while Brian France may run NASCAR, it does not belong to him, it belings to us, the fans. The gimmicks, the disregard for history, the even worse idea of an elimination, we are not going to take it. I will not watch another Chase race, and I am not alone. Ratings are down over 25% on average for the Chase, and I hope they are down by more than 33% by Fontana. We are taking NASCAR back, and anyone else who is equally fed up should join us, spread the word.

10/13/2010 12:42 PM

I once read somewhere that you can put a dress or maybe it was lipstick or maybe a dress and lipstick on a pig and its still a pig. Oh wait a minute…that pig has already gotten a dress and lipstick…I guess high heels are next? The chase has got to go, along with this top 35 nonsense. If Bozo Brian goes with an elimination style format for the chase I will refuse to watch the chase races. Bozo Brian reminds me of a four year old with his ears covered and saying, “Lalalalalalalala I can’t heeeear youuuuuu”!

10/13/2010 12:56 PM

Brian PLEASE drop the CHASE!

10/13/2010 01:41 PM

Drop the Chase and reform the driver points system. I like the F1 idea, but cut the points off further down (ex. 25th), then frontload more points to make leads less safe. The Chase has failed, end it.

10/13/2010 02:21 PM

What puzzles me the most is – that Nascar has to have someone watching and reading postings on the internet to get feedback on the races/chase. You would think that after sitting down and reading all the postings they would get a clue that VERY FEW people like the chase and would rather see it dropped altogether than try to improve it. I can even figure that out. Even then it is not right to strip these drivers of their hard earned positions and hand the points lead over to someone else and then have them race against the same non chasers. What other sport has all the teams in the playoffs and in the final game to determine the champion?

If we must have the Chase shoved down our throats lets have just those 12 drivers race each other and the remaining non-chasers race each other. Back to back races on the same day so they can still collect their ticket prices and shorten each of the 2 races to total the normal amount of laps. Then we could watch these precious 12 drivers fighting hard for every lap (maybe).This could possibly be very exciting racing.

10/13/2010 02:43 PM

Brian is a little busy right now defending race fixing allegations.

Frontstretch seems to be the only place that I have seen the media actually covering this. This is probably why I like this site better than most. They don’t toe the company line and their writers say what they feel and report what’s going on. I may not agree all the time with what they say, but its a refreshing change from all the Nascar media shills that are out there.

Sorry to get off topic. The Chase stinks. Get rid of it…There! Back on topic again :-)

10/13/2010 03:02 PM

THE CHASE SUCKS!!!! can’t say it any plainer than that.

10/13/2010 03:06 PM

Steve, you hit the nail on the head. I follow the articles submitted to and not a peep from other sites about the allegations. Chickenpoop lamestream media scared NA$CAR might pull their credentials.

10/13/2010 03:23 PM

Last chance power drive to save the Chase: Add Pocono, rather than a road course. And make all the races IROC style: identically prepared cars that the only time the teams touch them is on pit road.
im out

10/13/2010 08:12 PM

Stephen Hood said it all. Make every race exciting – screw the championship. Devise points slanted toward winning not riding and let each race be the focus….win at any cost….that’s what racers want right…to win?

10/13/2010 08:19 PM

Shayne, it’s bzf.:)

zhills fan
10/14/2010 11:43 AM

Drop the chase, drop the top 35, and get rid of these IROC machines (i would have said iroc cars but they aren’t cars at all). Go back to when they raced REAL cars.

10/14/2010 10:50 PM

Na$craps 10 race do-over chumpionships are MEANINGLESS!

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