You know the drill; you’ve known it for years – 10 years now, in fact.
Ever since the Chase for the Sprint Cup format was introduced a decade ago, pundits, fans, statisticians – anyone with a bit of free time, really – have kept track of a record that’s completely irrelevant these days, yet altogether familiar: the point standings if the Chase didn’t exist.
It’s easily found these days. The NASCAR knowledgable get out their notebooks or Excel spreadsheets and continue to tabulate what the points would be after the September race at Richmond International Raceway as though the points weren’t reset or altered in some way, like it was business as usual, 2003 and before. Inevitably, fans will cry from the rafters at season’s end that their driver should be hoisting the title, not another. They were the most consistent throughout the year, they scored the most overall points in the season, and they have the numbers to prove it.
That’s all good and well, of course. Though looking at that kind of ranking doesn’t do much in the long run – even if you did score the most points that year, few will remember unless you were the champion, too – it provides an intriguing look at how yesteryear’s practices would have worked in today’s races. Sure, there’s plenty of variables added that come with Chase racing that change the makeup of each race – especially, one could argue, in 2014 – but it’s about the best marker a fan of the old format currently has.
But here’s the interesting thing in 2014: we don’t just have a marker of pre-Chase.
Now, there’s pre-new Chase. Pre-2014 Chase. Whatever you want to call it.
There were a few slight differences throughout the Chase’s first decade in existence, mostly the way a driver made it in. First there were 10, then 12, followed by the wild cards. But once the Chase began, the object was the same: 10 races, most points in that period wins.
This year changed that, making it more than a mere 10-race sprint. It was more like playing one of those racing games in an arcade: you had so much time to make it to a certain checkpoint, and if you were good enough, you moved on. Then came another, and then another. Not good enough coming to one of the checkpoints? Done-zo.
Under the oldest points format, we’d see Jeff Gordon ahead in the standings right now, entering Phoenix International Raceway and the penultimate event of the 2014 season. His lead wouldn’t be commanding, but it’d be somewhat comfortable, with 26 points over second-place Joey Logano. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., a driver who’s no longer in the Chase after being eliminated in the second round, would be third, though 67 points back – making him pretty much out of the picture. Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick would round out the top 5, and Kyle Larson, the rookie and a driver who didn’t qualify for the 16-team Chase, would be 10th.
But let’s take it a different direction. Keep the Chase, but abolish the elimination rounds. The purists who pine for the old points championship aren’t going to care much, but there are some who are now purists in their own right: didn’t mind the Chase, don’t like the new format with eliminations.
Those types of purists who are also Joey Logano fans probably have a lot to say right now.
Currently, Logano sits tied for the lead in the standings entering Phoenix, with Denny Hamlin the other frontrunner. That’s still good, certainly; it’s not like he’s on the outside looking in, and stands to be one of the more likely entrants into the final four come Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But for starters, Hamlin wouldn’t even be in the Chase under the old format. The missed race earlier in the year at Auto Club Speedway after a sinus infection took him out would’ve seen to that.
Even more so: not only would Logano’s closest competitor be out of the running. The driver of the No. 22 would also stand to gain quite a lot from an elimination-less Chase because he’d be in the points lead by a semi-comfortable margin.
Under the old format, Logano would be leading second-place Kevin Harvick by 35 points entering Phoenix. Given the type of season the Team Penske driver has had, all he’d need to do is coast – which, again, likely would not be an issue – and he’d be the champion regardless of how Harvick performed at the final two races. It’d take some harsh luck or a sizable meltdown to lose that kind of cushion.
Plus, unlike the current format, which sees all eight drivers still reasonably in contention for the title, the former Chase format would cut out the contending field entering Phoenix significantly. While there’d be 10 drivers mathematically able to win, the majority would be 50 or more points behind. Two of those drivers would be unable to win the title by virtue of Logano simply starting both races.
|Dale Earnhardt, Jr||-95|
Of course, make no mistake: with the exception of Hamlin, who’s out due in part to his missed race, the contenders still around today in the Chase would have been near the top. The top 5 in points would be Logano, Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon, with Kyle Busch the first driver who’s currently out of the running. So while Busch would still be in contention for the title under the old format, he’d have a hefty 62-point margin to make up.
From there it’s Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, two of the other three not yet eliminated under the new rules, in seventh and eighth under the pre-2014 format. The others already eliminated? They’d be down low anyway.
It all seems to suggest that the right drivers have been eliminated, perhaps sans Busch. But it also notes that Logano, who’s currently tied for the modern points lead, would have a large cushion if this were 2013. He also wouldn’t have a pesky Denny Hamlin to contend with.
New Chase? Similar to the old Chase, except with what’s so far been more drama. Oh, and the guy who scored the most points throughout the year still isn’t winning right now, even though he’s still in contention. Sorry, Gordon fans.