Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Grading the Chase, TV’s Coming Attractions, and Harvick to the Hall?

Welcome to Friday Faceoff! What do you get when you take some hot-button NASCAR topics and hand them over to our dedicated and… er, opinionated staff? A little disagreement and a whole lot of thought-provoking insight! Check out this week’s edition to see what everyone is arguing… um, we mean, discussing this week!

1. Now that the 2014 version of the Chase is on the books, let’s analyze the format: what worked, what didn’t, and should there be any changes for 2015 and beyond.

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: Like it or not, the 2014 Chase format was a winner. The drama and trauma put NASCAR back atop the sports pages, and most of the Chase events led to water cooler talk come Monday. The elimination-style system seemed to motivate and infuriate teams, and the bracket-based structure seemed popular with fans. Homestead provided Brian France with the “Game Seven” moment he’s been craving for years, and all parties involved have to be happy about the increase in both ticket sales and TV ratings. The “three-and-out” approach to culling the field likely cost NASCAR even more attention (and cash) when the Holy Trinity (Johnson, Gordon, and Junior) were rendered irrelevant by the final race. As for changes, here’s a thought:  to eliminate the chance that a winless driver actually take the championship, change the rules so that only drivers who win races during the first 26 events move on to the Chase. You may only have eight or nine teams running for the title come Race 27, but at least they’re winners, and not purely strategists who’ve learned to beat the system.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Was the new-look Chase format the success it was hyped up to be? (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Ashley McCubbin, Contributing Writer: The Chase format did what NASCAR intended – brought forth a dramatic end to the season, and some drama along the way with each elimination round. So obviously it did what they wanted, right? The problem is that they made some fans mad in the process due to not crowning a traditional champion. Stock car racing has always been separate from stick and ball sports in that all champions are crowned on season long basis. So while Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon had the best seasons among competitors, only one of the three had a shot. Is that the fairest way? In trying to keep the balance for having a dramatic conclusion to the year while pleasing the old adage ways of crowning a champion, the Chase qualification rules that were used this year should be instilled for future seasons –win and you’re in, points fill final spots. Then reset with 10 races to go and leave it with no more resets. It’s the balances the goal of winning, and the proper crowning of a champion.

Amy Henderson, Managing Editor: The sense of urgency in some of the Chase races was exciting to see. What NASCAR needs to do is find a way to ensure that same desire to win in all 36 races. There was drama, all right, but it was manufactured drama. Of course you’re going to have a tight points race if you reset the points every couple of weeks and hand gusy points they didn’t earn. It’s hard to call someone who did not earn the most points in 2014, who was actually fifth in that category, and who would have been eliminated a week earlier based on what was actually earned, a true champion. Perhaps it’s time to break out an asterisk for the Chase title winners. NASCAR won’t recognize the achievement of the driver who earned the most points in any way, shape, or form…so does it matter what they do with the format next year? All it will be is more smoke and mirrors.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: The popular refrain has been that this year’s Chase was an unqualified success and that it worked. Judging by fan comments and reaction, the message gets a bit muddled. A quick peek at the ratings over the past three seasons shows that overall ratings were down to flat against last year, and down significantly from 2011. The final few races did see an uptick in viewership, no doubt fueled by the lip-bloodying mayhem on pit road at Texas. What doesn’t work is a driver with one top 5 heading into the Chase qualifying as “Championship” material. I understand that we have scored points differently throughout the years, even at one point using prize money as a metric. Whatever the case, consistent performance has always been the mark of a champion in any form of motorsports. The new mantra of win at all costs to the point where guys are throwing punches on pit road serves a short-term gain, but in the end sets us back 30 years and makes everyone look like the stereotypical hillbilly that NASCAR fought for so long to overcome. Is it exciting? Sure it is. But so is getting shot at or being chased by a bear. It doesn’t mean it’s something that promotes long-term survival in either case; as this is the system we’ll have in place for the foreseeable future, let’s give it a few years to mature to see how things play out.

Huston Ladner, Assistant Editor: No problem with the round by round aspect, if that’s what NASCAR wants to do, because it helped create interesting moments.  But the organization still needs to create a separate points system for the Chase drivers as related to the rest of the field.

2. Kevin Harvick has now scored a Sprint Cup championship. Add that to his resume that includes two Nationwide Series titles, a K&N West championship, and Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 wins… and is Harvick a lock for the NASCAR Hall of Fame?

Mark: Kevin Harvick’s career accomplishments make him a lock for the Hall of Fame, but so should his rise to Cup competition:  the fact that he assumed the seat vacated following Dale Earnhardt’s death in 2001. One week after Earnhardt was killed, here’s a young (and stunned?) Harvick climbing into the GM Goodwrench Chevrolet at Rockingham. Two weeks after that, he’s drag racing Jeff Gordon down the frontstretch and visiting Victory Lane at Atlanta. The story sounds like the plot of a movie, but it’s what steered Kevin Harvick toward the pinnacle of the sport where he stands today. He’ll likely be a first ballot selection.

With a championship now under his belt is Kevin Harvick now a lock for the Hall of Fame?
With a championship now under his belt is Kevin Harvick now a lock for the Hall of Fame?

Amy: Since the standards for the Hall are already on the low side (Dale Jarrett? Really?), Harvick will probably be enshrined when all is said and done. Right now, he has just 28 Cup wins, not really Hall of Fame numbers, but he’ll pad that number at least to Jarrett’s level in the next few years. He has an outside shot at 40+ wins, at which point, he’ll be truly worthy as a Cup driver. The second-tier titles are pretty meaningless since Harvick was already a Cup regular in superior equipment when he won them, but he’s also made some solid contributions as an owner. Right now, he’s borderline, but if he gets to 40 wins, he’s deserving.

 Vito: He has the stats for sure to back it up. A Daytona 500 and a Championship are virtual locks to get anyone in.

Justin Tucker, Contributing Writer: Harvick can go ahead and get his induction speech ready. He’s won a cup series title, 2 Xfinity titles, Won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Southern 500, and Coke 600. Mighty stellar resume.

Huston: Done deal.  Daytona 500 win.  Brickyard win.  Championship.  Two Busch/Nationwide/Grand National/Xfinity title wins.  That resume’ will get him in.

3. Entering the off-season, NASCAR has implemented some rule changes for 2015, but implemented a testing ban for teams. Will the test ban make the competition closer as teams figure out the new package?

Mark: The test ban will help the “have nots” keep pace with the “haves” a bit better, although the playing field will remain far from level. If no one can test, than no one can log laps trying innovative ideas. Sure, the mega teams will have their engineers and computer folks burning the midnight oil, and that luxury will keep the smaller players behind the curve, but banning testing should tighten the competition next season. Expect practice sessions to take on a whole new meaning. If I were a car owner, I’d be asking my sponsors to film television commercials of my car on the track (think Jimmy Johns and their “freaky fast delivery” motto); while cameras capture footage of my car at high speed, my engineers would be capturing data and trying out new developments. It’s only cheating if you get caught.

Ashley: The test ban will only make the gap between competitive and not competitive wider. Some teams, like the HMS/SHR alliance, have more people focused on discovering what is needed, versus some of the smaller organizations. If someone is able to hit on it through off-season research or trial and error early in the year, they will grab a quick advantage and separate themselves from the others. In contrast, if testing was allowed, you could see teams practice and work at improving to close the gap, as witnessed by Joe Gibbs Racing getting stronger throughout the year this past season.

Justin: Even though there is a testing ban for 2015. I fully expect Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart Haas Racing to be far ahead of the curve simply because of their people and resources compared to other teams. It is going to take awhile for the other teams to get caught up.

Will the major teams, like Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, see their advantage over the field widen courtesy of the 2015 testing ban?
Will the major teams, like Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, see their advantage over the field widen courtesy of the 2015 testing ban?

Joseph Wolkin, Contributing Writer: The testing ban is going to make the bigger teams have an edge. Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports arguably had the best cars throughout the year. The ban should help some of the teams that were struggling, such as Roush Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing, who has obvious weak points at intermediate tracks throughout the year. The underfunded teams are always going to be a few tenths off of the ones with multi-million dollar sponsors, but the testing ban should help them since they can’t afford to test much to begin with.

Huston: Ha. The teams with the money have already had their dynos, programs, and engineers working on this one.  The teams with less money won’t have the resources to compete in the same regard.  This situation will just illustrate the gap between the rich and the poor – ya know, like the 1% and everyone else.  Run amok capitalism.

4. 2015 also marks the beginning of NASCAR’s new television contract with FOX and NBC. What should fans expect…and what should be different from what they’re seeing now?

Mark: You say “tomato” and I say “tom-ah-to”…. The network switch will result in more of the same coverage we’ve come to love/loathe in NASCAR. Didn’t we say our tearful good-byes to ESPN a few years ago? Call me a cynic, but TV deals are more about profits and personalities than they are about providing the kind of coverage fans really need (not want, but need). Last weekend’s coverage of Homestead made me think there were only four cars in the race; the other 39 were reduced to rush hour traffic getting in the way. I like NBC’s seemingly new dedication to motorsports, but I fear NASCAR might get shoved into the network’s cable hinterlands, especially as the afterglow of this year’s Chase fades into the doldrums of 2015.

Ashley: FOX’s coverage looks to be the same – same group of people, same babbles from Darrell Waltrip and Larry MacReynolds that have either been applauded by or angered fans in the past. Hopefully the new year will bring better coverage for Canadian fans. SPEED turning into FOX Sports 1 left many Canadian fans missing truck races throughout the second half of the year due to no coverage, with the Canadian Broadcast Council not accepting FOX Sports 1 due to it being an American network and because of competition with their key networks. One can only hope that TSN (The Sports Network), Canada’s lead sports broadcast channel, gets a contract in place to show the truck races, as they already show Nationwide and Cup.  Moving forward to NBC, they seem to be putting the right people in place and taking a good approach in forming the best broadcast team possible.

Amy: Unfortunately, fans can probably expect more of the same: tight camera angles focusing on one or two cars, broadcasts focusing on the leaders and a few predetermined drivers, little mention of anyone else, lots of commercials to pay for it all. That means fans won’t see a lot of close battles on track because the cameras will be on the guy leading by three seconds with no challenge. NBC has a great cast, but unless they take a totally new approach in broadcasting races, what you will actually see on the screen is probably about the same.

Vito: I’m looking forward to NBC’s coverage with some new voices and blood in the booth with Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte on hand. It will be interesting to hear from a driver and crew chief with relevant experience and exposure at a competition level. Not to disparage the familiar faces on FOX, but much has changed since the late 90’s and early 2000s — a fresh perspective and insight from behind the wheel and atop the pit box will be welcomed.

Justin: Really looking forward to NBC’s coverage with Rick Allen, Steve Letarte, and Jeff Burton. Not only do they offer a fresh perspective for race fans it will be nice to hear more voices with on track experience. I would like to see FOX and NBC offer more non-stop coverage to allow race fans not to miss a moment while on commercials.

Could a personnel shakeup help pull FOX out of it’s ratings tailspin?
What should fans expect in terms of television coverage in 2015?

Joseph: NBC is really going to be a great addition to the NASCAR world. They already started up their NASCAR coverage with “NASCAR America.” Expect to see a lot of digital platforms from NBC with apps for smart phones, and maybe even the possibility of live streaming events. Ratings have declined with people being able to watch races online with Race Buddy, Race View and Twitter.

Huston: Some half and half.  FOX will barely change — and that’s for the worse.  NBC may be the hope here.  They’ve become, in many ways, Speed Pt. 2.  They’re covering F1.  They’re covering IndyCar.  They seem like, holy crap, they care about motorsports.  With Jeff Burton, Steve Latarte, and what constitutes much of the old Speed crew, the may actually present some good stuff.  Or that may just be a fingers crossed attitude.

Frontstretch Staff Predictions 2014

Welcome to our seventh year of staff predictions! Each week, our experts take the end of this column to tell us who the winner of each Cup race will be. But as we all know, predicting the future is difficult if not completely impossible… so how do you know which writer you can trust when you put your own reputation (or money) on the line?

That’s why we came up with our Predictions Chart. The scoring for this year is simple:

 Prediction Scoring
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd

Ford EcoBoost 400   

Writer Pick Finishing Position Points
Amy Henderson Jimmie Johnson 9th 1
Phil Allaway Brad Keselowski 3rd 3
Vito Pugliese Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 14th 0
Joseph Wolkin Kyle Larson 13th 0
Mark Howell Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 14th 0
Huston Ladner Jeff Gordon 10th 1
Mike Neff Jeff Gordon 10th 1

 2014 Final Standings

 Writer Points Behind Starts Wins Top 5 Top 10
Amy Henderson 39 36 3 11 18
Mike Neff   30 -9 24 1 11 14
Phil Allaway 30 -9 31 4 10 15
Vito Pugliese 16 -23 12 1 5 6
Justin Tucker 10 -29 7 1 3 4
Tom Bowles 9 -30 6 2 2 4
Matt Stallknecht 9 -30 3 0 3 3
Huston Ladner 8 -31 9 1 3 4
Summer Bedgood 7 -32 3 1 1 2
Ashley McCubbin 5 -34 1 1 1 1
Aaron Creed 5 -34 8 0 2 5
Jeff Wolfe 5 -34 5 0 2 2
Mark Howell 4 -35 9 0 2 3
Kevin Rutherford 4 -35 2 0 1 1
Greg Davis 3 -36 1 0 1 1
Beth Lunkenheimer 3 -36 2 0 1 1
Jeff Meyer 3 -36 1 0 1 1
S.D. Grady 1 -38 2 0 1 1
Brad Morgan 0 -39 3 1 1 2
Joseph Wolkin -4 -43 7 0 1 1


About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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Mark, I guess the world is a changing as to what defines “success”…it is now a very superficial word that has been diluted along with the word “Champion” and Consistency”. Yeah indeed, it put Nascar in the front pages….so what? If the people didn’t know about it before, then them reading for the sake of reading eating their Fruit Loops every morning is not providing the sport additional exposure in recruiting “new” fans interested in motorsports, maybe “fighting” as that seems to be what is on the highlight reels. This accomplished the “Boom” factor for casual fans, but for what???? What did it say other than it got people talking, how did it help the actual sport of stock car racing?


It’s easy to claim something is a success when the standard is lowered. Sellouts at tracks that had removed seats. The best that can be said about the TV ratings is that they were even with 2013. They were still down more than 30% from the 2003 Homestead race where the Championship had been decided the previous week.
It is easy to have a “Game 7” moment when the standings are reset 100 times. Those not in the NASCAR-loving media could see through all of this. Most fans knew it wasn’t genuine that the Final Four spent most of the day in the Top 5 or 6. Until Daytona, the image in my mind will be the 11 and 31 miraculously finding speed they didn’t have for 35 races.
Most fans don’t view the 10-race or 1-race Champions in the last eleven years in the same vein as those who won championships based on a full season’s body of work.
What happens next year, a mandatory post-race brawl every 3 races in the Chase, maybe a fan vote or some other type of gimmick reserved for the Winston or Bud Shootout?
Fans have tired off endless debris cautions (even the caution periods seem 2-3 laps longer than they used to be), Lucky Dogs, wave-arounds, and dare I say, even double-file restarts. The double-file restarts are fine at Pocono or Michigan but a downright joke at Martinsville where the driver restarting 2nd is at a disadvantage to the driver restarting 11th or even 13th. It used to be that the numbers of cars on the lead lap decreased as the race went on. Now it is just the opposite. Races that have 16 cars on the lead lap at the 2/3 distance suddenly have 28 or 30 by the final restart. Denny Hamlin, better this season than all but 2 drivers (after all, that’s what the final official standings say), was lapped, received a Lucky Dog, and was lapped a 2nd time, receiving a 2nd Lucky Dog, just the week before at Phoenix thanks to a cycle of debris cautions and double file restarts.
I was a fan of Jeff Burton the driver. My only fear from what I’ve seen so far of this TV work is that he is just another NASCAR yes man. He was as big a cheerleader of this Chase format as the lap dogs at Fox and ESPN.
Harvick as a Hall of Famer? Not so sure yet. I think we are now at the point where we’re comparing different eras. Sorry, a Chase Championship is not the equal of those won prior to 2004. 28 wins in 14 years- that’s 2 per season. Is that the mark of someone at the apex of the sport for an extended period? Reverse the roles on the finish. Had Newman won, would we be having this same discussion? Not so sure. Matt Kenseth has a slightly stronger resume in my opinion and I’m not sure he is at that level. I probably hold it a little against him winning one race in 2003, bringing this constantly evolving farce to life.


Great comments!


the crapshoot was a “success” only because NASCAR manipulated things with the constant resets to the points. Yeah if you start over at zero often enough, well, duh of course it will be close. Then of course, how is that the 11 and 31 who were middle of the pack cars ALL season long suddenly were running up front at Homestead? Yeah right, I believe that! Was it exciting? Well, sure if you were a fan of one of the “four” or a casual fan who follows NASCAR by watching SC or the NASCAR loving media.

NASCAR is lucky that Harvick won it since he and his team had at least been fast all season, won races. It still makes him a 1 race champion, but that is apparently NASCAR’s new normal. Dover Speedway tweeted out to everyone “here’s “YOUR” NASCAR champion. Nope, sorry, Harvick won the crapshoot but he’s not MY champion. I hated the 10 race chases and they deserve asterisks as much as this one deserves it.

TV coverage for next year – gee lucky us, we get the Fox buffoons for the first half and on FS1 instead of std cable. Wonderful. I hated have to search for where the race was going to be on ESPN, I doubt that moving races to FS1 is going to help NASCAR’s ratings. Then again, they don’t really seem to care whether or not the ratings are decent or even if the TV partners cover the races well. NBC is an unknown quantity – maybe new coverage for the end of the season will be better but if it turns into chase, chase, chase incessantly, I’ll tune them out the same way I have ESPN for the past few years. Cover the race, that’s why fans tune in – points as they run mean zero.

Tim S.

I’ve always enjoyed Rick Allen’s work in the booth. I hated to see him leave the trucks. Letarte looks to have all the makings of a Hendrick shill. Think I’m wrong? Look at McReynolds. He never worked for Hendrick, and can’t shut up about him. Sometimes I think if you said the names Ernie Irvan or Davey Allison, he’d say, “who?” Letarte came up through all that stuff, so I don’t hold out much hope that he’ll be any different. As for Burton, I echo rg72. I liked him as a driver, but in the media he’s just another NASCAR rubber-stamper who will use his status as a recent competitor and articulate speaker to tell all of us non-competitors what we’d better think.


I think NBC picked the wrong Burton. Put Ward in the booth and I’ll even watch the mile and a half races.


Like many others, I do not regard a ‘chase’ title in the same regard as a true, season long champion. Part of the problem is because Nascar and the media now put so much emphasis on the title, rather than each individual race. No one card if the title was wrapped up 2 races before the end of the season, because the emphasis used to be on each individual race. Now, with touting the championship the second the first race is over, you devalue each individual race. But, I guess if Nascar thinks success is a tiny bump in ratings for the final two races, then they were successful. But will that keep fans, sponsors, and networks interested?


Exactly. The minute the Daytona 500 is over, instead of celebrating the victory in the race, we’ll hear the dreaded words that so and so has punched their ticket to the Chase. And then repeat every time someone wins their first race of the year.


All good points, I agree with every one of them. And I don’t care what anybody tries to tell me Kevin Harvick is a ONE RACE CHAMP, a crapshoot out of 4 drivers…it was his day not to have anything go wrong. Is that really a Champ? No.


So, winning a certain plate race and winning at Indy (where they don’t really belong) are factors in deciding whether someone is worthy of the Hall of Fame? Actually, winning at old, old Bristol (before the fix and re-fix) and winning at Martinsville would be a better measure of racing ability. But, hype over substance is what it’s all about these days.


Using the same logic as this panel, had Newman passed Harvick at the end to win the race at Homestead, he could start preparing his HOF speech. After all, he would have a Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, and what passes these days as a Cup title.

Tim S.

I wonder why anyone is even thinking about whether Harvick goes into the hall of fame or not. He didn’t retire after Homestead, so barring an off-season tragedy, he’s far from finished.

Don in CT

Talk about product dilution! The chase is a farce, primarily because it cheats fans out of watching good competitive racing during the rest of the season. As I’ve said before, Ill watch the road races and short tracks; you can have the rest.

Jim F

Ashley, only Shaw Direct satellite has retained Speed up here. Haven’t missed a truck race yet. Just have to put up with the repeated commercials for their crappy ancient programs. Who watched that crap, no wonder they went under.

Mike 3294

I’ve been following this sport for over 50 years. A lot of you piss and moan over the broadcasters and TV coverage. It is so much better now that it ever was. If you were lucky years ago, you’d get a 15 minute segment on Wide World of Sports. I don’t care who is in the booth. I’m happy they show the race. As far as the points system to define the champion, all the teams know the points system at the beginning of the year and race accordingly. All this BS about a champion not being legitimate is pure crap. The system was in place, the 4 team raced that system and won fair and square. If the 31 would have won he’d deserve it. Going back and trying to compare this years champion to past years based on points is a waste of time because the teams would have called the races differently. The racing this year was better and the final 10 races were as exciting as I’ve seen in 50 years of watching.


I don’t know what bothers me more, the mess that NASCAR has become or the disingenuous press. Seriously, do they really believe we buy the constant spin? The Chase is, and has always been a silly illegitimate gimmick. Stop trying to convince us otherwise.


Ashley, you should check into what TSN’s plans are for 2015 and beyond. It is my understanding that they are dropping all NASCAR coverage as of last Sunday’s race. This has to do with the ugly high price that communications company Rogers paid for their NHL contract ($433-million per year), and what they are charging Bell Media to show any regional games. Representatives of Bell and Rogers went to FOX and demanded that FOX give them SPEED Channel for free, and when FOX told them to get lost, Rogers dropped SPEED at the end of February, and Bell dropped it at the end of April. Bell has a cable network up here called “Fibe” (a horrible service!), to which a lot of people jumped to who took the plunge just to retain SPEED, only to be stabbed in the back! And with this hockey dispute, any NASCAR coverage has been and is being sacrificed. Too, Rogers just paid out over $17-million a year to some baseball player for the Toronto Blue Jays, which they own. Unless the races come over the regular network channels, there will be no NASCAR races shown on TV here in Canada. However, I was in a rather heated discussion with a BELL representative over their horrible Fibe service, and they said that there is a very strong possibility that all NASCAR races will be blocked by both BELL and Rogers. If anyone has BELL internet, any websights that allow live streaming of a NASCAR race is blocked. I believe Rogers is doing the same. So, we NASCAR fans in Canada most likely will not be seeing any NASCAR races on TV in 2015 and beyond. Well, except for Michigan, which I will be attending in person.

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