It’s a word that many NASCAR fans loathe. After all, it’s been in the name of change that fans have endured racecars that don’t handle when they race, limited innovation, beloved short tracks replaced by cookie-cutters and a championship system that poll after poll has shown they don’t want. A lot of the changes that have come to the sport in recent years have not been well-received, and many for good reason.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup has been a particular bone of contention since its inception in 2004. NASCAR isn’t like other sports, and many of its longtime fans don’t want it to be. But since it appears that the fans’ sentiment falls upon deaf ears in Daytona, NASCAR does need to make another change – to the schedule of tracks that fall within the final 10 races.
There has been talk for years that a road course should be added to the Chase, and that’s definitely one aspect that needs to be explored. If the Chase is determining the sport’s champion, it should include every type of track, for sure. It could be done by either moving one of the two existing road course races to a later date, or by adding a third road race to the mix, which would seem preferable as the road races are generally considered some of the best of the year.
While it’s hard to argue against a superspeedway in the Chase if the road course argument holds water, it needs to be earlier in the Chase and it has no business as an elimination race. Remember the carnage that was Daytona in July? If a similar race goes down at Talladega in three weeks, it won’t be pretty, and now plays too great a role in who moves on in the Chase. As the cream rises to the top, it shouldn’t be skimmed off by someone else, and it would be a real shame if the drivers who have been the best for the first six races suddenly face elimination because of mistakes they don’t make. And argue all you want about that being true at any track; you know as well as I do that the odds are significantly greater of that happening at a restrictor plate track.
Because there are a number of fans who do like the chaos that is plate racing, why not open the Chase with Talladega? It gives teams longer to recover and fans a better chance of seeing better racing. Where ‘Dega is on the schedule right now is setting up for many of the Chase teams to run at the back to avoid trouble. You can’t blame them for that; the risk of mixing it up at that juncture far outweighs the reward in most cases. Sure, if you have a driver who stumbles at both Kansas and Charlotte, he’ll go for the win at Talladega – but for the most part, there’s no incentive to win rather than to survive.
Perhaps a Talladega opener, followed by a breather in Chicago and the flat mile at Loudon would be a good way to kick things off. If Dover showed us anything, it’s that the stakes are too high in an elimination race for teams to take many risks, so moving that track, known for its tough racing, back a couple of weeks wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps a round two consisting of Watkins Glen, Dover and Charlotte would work a little better. Kansas Speedway has done nothing to show it deserves two races at all, let alone a Chase race, so it would be my choice to be axed.
What that does is showcase a greater variety of tracks in each round, which could change the championship picture slightly as it would spread drivers’ talents out more. A driver who’s great on one-mile tracks would not have both Loudon and Dover in one round, and one whose strength is the 1.5-milers would lose the ability to pad a segment of the Chase as well, which would make the overall championship more open.
Round three, with Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, would be a final test of drivers because Martinsville and Phoenix are drivers’ tracks. Texas puts the teams on the line with the intermediate setups. Atlanta would be a better choice for the finale than Homestead as it does generally produce better racing, but the final race should be on a track where the champion has the best chance to create his own destiny rather than one where there’s a greater chance for others to determine his (and his team’s) fate.
Since it appears as though the Chase will be around for the foreseeable future, there needs to be a change in the approach to it. The ten tracks are virtually the same as they were before the Chase, and if such a format is to gain traction, the schedule needs to be tailored to it and not merely there because they’ve always been there. Changing the tracks us would not eliminate many of the issues with the Chase, but it could change the way teams approach it and make it a better contest.
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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