NASCAR Race Weekend Central

What’s the Call? New Points System for the Chase?

Welcome to this week’s edition of What’s the Call? Each week, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s big controversies. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!

This Week’s Question: With Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin all taking a big hit in points in incidents caused by non-Chase drivers, is it time to institute a separate points system for the Chasers so that other teams’ mistakes don’t have such a huge negative impact?

Don’t Let Someone Outside the Top 10 Determine a Champion

Nearing the completion of its third year, the Chase for the Nextel Cup is looking more and more like a science experiment gone awry every week. Remember the flamboyant bread mold that, left unchecked, took over the refrigerator? Yeah, the sport’s kind of like that… without the antibiotic qualities. NASCAR has hinted at some tweaks to the Chase system for 2007, such as allowing more than 10 teams in and giving out more points for a race win (you think?). What has become painfully clear over the last three years, though, is that if NASCAR is going to insist on this type of superfluous “playoff” system, they need to award points differently for the 10 teams who make the Chase in order to make it fair.

There are two problems in one with the current Chase system. The first is the way NASCAR resets the points in the first place. There desperately needs to be a wider gap between teams, especially at the top of the heap. It took the No. 17 team half a year to build up somewhat of a cushion over their competition, but all of a split second for NASCAR to take it away. At least give the team that is consistently the best all year long some reward so that one mistake, or worse, someone else’s mistake, doesn’t take it all away. Five points simply isn’t enough.

That quandary actually brings us to the deeper root of the problem: it’s easier to lose points than to gain them. A great race might gain a handful of points if the point leaders have some bad luck, but a bad one can cost a Chaser 100 points or more. It’s one thing if it’s a team’s own mistake, like a blown engine or a missed setup – every team will likely have something like that once in 10 weeks, anyway. However, it’s another thing entirely to take away teams’ points advantages completely and then leave them at the mercy of 33 teams and drivers with nothing to lose. In 2004, it was Elliott Sadler; last year, it was Jeremy Mayfield – caught up in every other team’s bad luck and mistakes, they were virtually eliminated from contention early on. This year, it’s Johnson who has felt the sting of others’ bad luck – in four races, he’s had his chances for a good finish destroyed by drivers not even in the running for a title a total of three times. The fourth time, it was actually another Chaser’s mistake that killed the No. 48’s momentum, leaving his own championship chances up in smoke after leading the points until late August.

To be out of it this early is an injustice that needs to be corrected; here’s what NASCAR needs to do to fix it. They should simply award points to the other 33 competitors exactly as they do all year… by their order of finish. Then, take the 10 Chasers and give them points based only on how they finish in relation to each other (The simplest solution would be to simply use the current system, with the Chasers pointed separately and getting a minimum of 10th-place points). Slap on a healthy bonus (say, an extra 25-50 markers) for going to victory lane while you’re at it, and it puts the teams’ fates where they belong – squarely in their own hands.

What does this type of move do for the fans? A lot. It would arguably heighten the excitement of the Chase by keeping the points closer throughout the 10 week span. Right now, if the points leader wins and another Chaser comes in 43rd, that guy loses a minimum of 146 points. With a Chase-only system using current point spreads, the most he could lose is 46 points. That’s still not easy to make up… but not hopeless, either. Many fans lose interest if their driver is virtually out of the running after just a couple of races, which in turn hurts television ratings and the sport itself. Having something to watch for will keep them in front of the set on race day. If the Chase contenders knew they didn’t have so much to lose, it would put an end to “points racing” because they could go after a win rather than worry about wrecking and losing 100 points or more. It means the non-Chasers don’t have to race them differently, something 2005 champion Tony Stewart says he feels he has to do this year. If NASCAR wants excitement in the final 10, they need to institute a system that encourages better racing.

Bottom line? NASCAR needs to decide what it wants. If the sanctioning body wants to have a playoff system, they need to score a playoff system. (Imagine if the NFL system ran like NASCAR’s – every playoff team had to play every other team during the week, and the points their opponents scored could be held against them – which is essentially the way the current NASCAR system works). The teams in the championship hunt should determine the champion: how unfortunate would it be if Sterling Marlin ultimately determines who wins it all. – Amy Henderson

The Chase is Fine As Is

In what can only be construed as the definitive proof that the world has gone completely mad, I find myself writing this article in defense of “The Chase” as it stands in its current form.

I will emphatically state right now that “The Chase” is and always will be, nothing more than a cheap television gimmick contrived by a greedy little man who’s only concern is lining his pockets with more money. Having said that,

Unless “The Chase” is done away with altogether, leave it alone!

The creation of this made-for-TV gimmick has already affected the way non-Chasers run a race enough. 33 drivers now feel obligated or pressured to give special dispensations to a certain 10 other drivers, dispensations that are NOT normally given during the first 26 races of the season. The institution of a separate points system for the Chasers would be simply ludicrous and would not have changed the outcome in any way of Sunday’s race. Even if there were a separate system, the cry by all the blindly-biased Johnson fans to have Brian Vickers nailed to a stump by his thumbs, wouldn’t be lessened one bit. It doesn’t matter if Vickers cost Johnson one point or 100.

If you are going to have a separate points system, you might as well have a completely separate race featuring only the top-10 drivers. Call it NASCROCC: National Association of Stock Car Racing, only formed from Cup Contenders.

Part of racing is being able to avoid and or deal with ALL the other competitors. It is the unknown factors that could jump up and bite any team at any time that give this sport its charm. Those that are in the top 10 got there by dealing with the other 33 drivers out there on the track for the first 26 races, so surely, if they are truly deserving, they can deal with them, and the potential threats they pose, for the remaining 10 races.

In a lot of fans minds, “The Chase” in and of itself has already undermined the credibility of the sport of Cup racing. Altering it now to suit the whims of its creators, or to make it less of a challenge to the top-10 drivers, would throw what little credibility it has left straight out the window.

If ANYTHING causes a driver to paticipate in a race with anything other than the goal of winning, the whole system is inherently flawed! Either get rid of the whole thing… or leave it alone! – Jeff Meyer

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