Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Daytona Daydreaming – Changes Loom Ahead for NASCAR’s Chase, Again…

Last weekend at Daytona, a number of topics were discussed by NASCAR CEO Brian France. Some were met with rousing approval – i.e., the new Nationwide Series Car of Tomorrow, others were split down the middle, such as repaving the surface at the 2.5-mile superspeedway (and removing the associated potholes), while others such as the sudden aversion to ethanol was met largely with indifference – outside of Iowa at least. Perhaps the most controversial discussion – and one that has become redundantly redundant – yet again, further potential changes to the Chase.

To steal a line from Scott Speed this year at Michigan – “Really? Are we really going to do that?”

One of the rumors floating around is the notion of expanding the Chase to 15 drivers. Really? 15? I’m really bad at math, but with some fancy cipherin’, that comes out to nearly one-third of the field being eligible for the playoffs. No offense to Ryan Newman, but at 594 points out of first right now, does it make sense that he would be suddenly be a title contender all of a sudden?

The fact that Kevin Harvick could take two weeks off, finish dead last the following and still be ahead of Newman following a trifecta of wins says a lot about the disparity between the points leaders and those fighting just to get to the 12th and final transfer spot to qualify for The Chase.

Another popular theory has the inclusion of an elimination format where every few races, a few drivers fall out of contention. This plays into the bracketology mindset, trying to mirror the success and universal praise of the NCAA basketball field of 64 tournament. While everybody loves March Madness, I don’t know that it would work in October or with stock cars. After all, didn’t we just spend the last decade pandering to fans of stick-and-ball sports and casual fans only to thoroughly piss off the foundation of the sport that served as the launching pad for NASCAR’s meteoric rise to national prominence?

If it is legitimacy and legacy you are looking to forge, creating a Hall of Fame and inducting the right mix of living and passed is the perfect way to go about things. Perpetually fiddling with it like a trio of uncooperative Holley two-barrels does nothing to foster interest or respect among those you have tried in vein to cater to for the last 10 years.

The NFL doesn’t do it. Major League Baseball doesn’t do it. The NBA doesn’t do it. If you are going to mimic something, copy what has proven to work for half a century – or what had been working for the last 35 years. You know what hasn’t been working? The NCAA BCS and NASCAR. Why not just take a page from the Slam Man of sports championship formats and have a computer spit out a bunch of misleading stats and loop data to conjure up the title winner?

If you want to know what works and what sells, look no further than to the UFC: put two guys with really bad tattoos and cauliflower ear in a cage and let them wallop the bjesus out of each other for 15 minutes.

Come to think of it, that was kind of how NASCAR was not so long ago – a simple descending points system that was a cumulative year long battle, that provided some of the best racing moments in history. Between 1989 and 2003, there were a handful of years where things were a little stale; 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000 and 2003.

So maybe every 3-4 years you’d have some guy dominate the championship and it wouldn’t provide seizure-inducing drama whereupon everybody throws up all over themselves from being so totally freaked out and having their minds blown over a racing series that starts up two months after deciding the season champ.

That’s all well and good, but under the Chase format, the same guy has won it four years in a row. I understand the push for ratings, but this having to constantly tinker, fiddle and fix something is the same reason why Chrysler nearly went out of business in the 1970s and why British cars aren’t popular here.

The fact that every year the subject is brought up on how to make the championship Chase better is proof positive that the format itself is inherently flawed. You can only adjust something with a hammer so many times before you have to get out a really big hammer to destroy it and start all over. If sanity were to prevail, you’d see me riding a wrecking ball into a building emblazoned with “Chase for the Championship” like that creepy little troll-looking singer of the ’80s metal band Accept at the end of their video for “Balls to the Wall.”

That would put a whole new spin on “The Flying V” for sure.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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