As the Camping World Truck Series rolls into Phoenix for the 24th race this season, it’s likely Todd Bodine will walk out as the champion since he only needs a 19th-place finish to clinch, provided he starts the race at Homestead-Miami as well. Because of that, a question was asked earlier this week in Mirror Driving about whether the Truck Series should consider a Chase to help out the championship race. A few years ago, I took a look at the possibility, but after two consecutive years of a championship decided prior to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it’s time to take a look at it again since we all know NASCAR likely will.
When I first considered a Chase for the Truck Series title a few years ago, one of my biggest reasons against it was the history of close battles through the years. More often than not, the championship is decided during the season finale, the way it should be.
The only way to really know whether the series needs to go to a Chase format is to try, but I’m not suggesting that NASCAR just jump in head first. Instead, I’d like to take a look at a few previous seasons and see whether the idea actually makes sense.
Since the Chase in the Cup Series is 10 races out of 36 (28%), it only makes sense to have a Truck Series chase cover the same percentage of races. So in our examples, the Chase will be seven races long. Likewise, you can’t really have one-third of the field participating in the Chase, so we’ll be using 10 drivers in the Chase field rather than 12.
And since I’m trying to use the same type of rules used for the Cup Series, we’re going to add 10 points to the Chase reset of 5000 points for each race win during the “regular” season.
Interestingly enough, if the Truck Series were to implement a seven-race Chase for the championship, it would get started on the same weekend the Chase starts in the Cup Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
As everyone knows, Bodine currently holds a 230-point lead with just two races remaining, but Aric Almirola has put together a string of 12 top-10 finishes in the last 12 races. Had the Truck Series reset the points before New Hampshire and used a Chase format instead, Almirola would actually hold an 11-point lead over Bodine, and the championship would be a three-man race, separated by just 27 points.
Obviously the change to a Chase would have significantly impacted where this season would stand with two races remaining. Rather than one driver ready to clinch with little effort, you’d have three great drivers battling it out until the checkered flag flew over Homestead.
Last season, Ron Hornaday Jr. was able to celebrate his championship at Phoenix in a dual burnout with team owner and race winner Kevin Harvick, and by the time the season finale was over, Hornaday Jr. held a 197-point lead over his closest competitor, Matt Crafton. But what if they had used a Chase format?
Crafton would have brought home the first championship for ThorSport Racing, and it would have been quite a blowout still under a Chase format, largely thanks to the string of seven top-10 finishes Crafton put together to close out the 2009 season.
Even though the intent with the Chase is to remove a large points lead and a driver clinching the championship before the season ends, my research and consideration would not be complete if I didn’t take the time to see what would have happened in some of the closest points battles as well.
It seems to me the 2008 season is the perfect place to start when looking at close points battles since it’s freshest in our memory. It came down to the final lap of the season finale, and Johnny Benson was the one on top by just seven points. If we were to apply my Chase rules to that season, here’s the result.
Hornaday Jr. would have added another championship to his resume thanks to two DNFs for Benson in the final seven races of the season. In this case, the full season points battle was much more exciting than any manufactured battle could ever be.
Even though I’ve taken a look at championship blowouts and a close battle and compared statistics, I’m still not interested in a Chase in the Truck Series. Sure it may have given us a tighter points battle this season, but I can’t stand manufactured excitement. One of the biggest appeals all along in the series has been the exciting racing and drivers really shining when they have a fantastic year. If you take that away, things will change. The field will end up points racing and you’ll hand over a championship based on a team’s performance over less than a third of the season.The last two years have been the exception, not the rule, and I’m convinced that we’ll be right back to a tight points battle by this time next season. So, NASCAR, please leave our points system alone.