NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Kickin’ The Tires: Is #TheChase Helping Or Hurting NASCAR?

AVONDALE, Ariz. – So, now that the field is set for four drivers to do battle in the final race of the NASCAR season next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway the big questions are whether #TheChase lives up to the hype and whether this format really does build drama and put it on the same level as stick-and-ball sports.

Years ago, I wrote for a magazine covering the billiards industry. At first, you might think billiards, or pool, would be the ultimate stick-and-ball sport but it has never been viewed that way. Ever. At the time, I called the sports editor of the Las Vegas Review Journal, spoke to sports bookies and several professional athletes, and none of them could give me a reason why the sport I was involved in wasn’t viewed as a stick-and-ball sport. Of course, they had all played or attempted to at some point in their life.

It made me think, maybe, a sport doesn’t need to be compared to basketball or football or baseball or any other form of athletic activity to be enjoyed and followed by millions of people. There are obviously millions of people, who play pool. No, there aren’t that many who follow it on a weekly, or even, a monthly basis but most have heard of Earl Strickland or Jeanette Lee and, of course, Willie Mosconi ad Minnesota Fats.

Looking at it further, one might ask if horse racing is a sport. Is yachting a sport? What about curling, ping-pong or golf? Are these sports that you can compare to the Big 3? Probably not, but that’s irrelevant because they are still a sporting competition.

So, as I cover the motorsports world and follow NASCAR each week, I read the comments about this and other columns and I wonder why so many people are so down on NASCAR. Some people, who claim to be loyal fans, denigrate NASCAR to a point that, if others listened to them, they might believe it will meet its demise in the coming years, if not months.

It’s compared to football and baseball and basketball. There is criticism of how the playoffs in those sports are pure, untouched and designed to ensure the best teams make it to the end and battles for the championship but not in NASCAR. That argument seems odd to me considering a key player might have an off day and impact the final score. Isn’t that the same thing that happens when a driver has a bad day and ends up being eliminated from contention for the championship? In reality, don’t sports teams that have a winning record sometimes get eliminated en route to “The Big Game?”

What about in golf? I mentioned it above but let’s look at it versus NASCAR. In golf players are eliminated from competion just like they are in NASCAR and it happens during the match. Only certain players can compete for certain major events because they are the only ones qualified for them. Additionally, if you don’t play well-enough in golf they won’t let you play in the tournament – remember you have to have a tour card for the PGA. Isn’t that similar to what happened in NASCAR at Charlotte, Talladega and Phoenix?

This weekend four drivers were eliminated from contention for NASCAR’s final round of #TheChase. Yet, fans will most definitely rip this column apart because they disagree with my opinions on why each one of those four drivers deserves to race for the title. Some fans will say that it’s okay for Jeff Gordon to compete next week because he got a win and made the cut. To the polar opposite, others will say Kyle Busch shouldn’t be in #TheChase because he missed 11 races. Umm, need I remind you that he has four wins? That logic makes no damn sense. They both deserve to fight for the trophy. So do Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.

And before anyone says, “that’s not how stick-and-ball does it,” think about golf, or better yet, think about pool. In a pool tournament a player can miss a single ball and be eliminated from the competition. Is that fair? You may not thinks it’s fair if that person was your driver, your player or your team. But that okay because you are a fan.

What I’ve learned in NASCAR and from the billiards world is fans are rarely happy. Most think they have a better way of doing things and, quite simply, if the sanctioning body of (insert name of sport here) doesn’t do what they want then everything is rigged or the sport is going to hell or the fans are leaving in droves or, or, or… And, you know what, that’s okay. You’re a fan. You’re biased. It’s good that you have those opinions and beliefs, because others may feel differently, and that’s where rivalries are born and makes fans cheer for this team or that team or this driver, etc.

The simple truth is that NASCAR has been around since 1948 so they must have made some pretty good decisions along the way. Heading into a sold-out Homestead-Miami Speedway next week is a pretty good indication that the drama and excitement from #TheChase is holding its own against those stick-and-ball sports, so don’t look for it to disappear anytime soon.

Jerry Jordan, a Frontstretch contributor, also has his own site at kickinthetires.net.

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27 Comments
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DoninAjax

So we have the Lucky Four and 39 cars and SPONSORS disappear.

It was a rhetorical question, right? The correct answer is well known.

GinaV24

Let’s see, tracks removing seats, ratings down – even when the race is on a network channel, if your favorite is eliminated there is no coverage of that car or its sponsors. A system that many fans think is a bad way to define a champion?

The answer seems pretty obvious to me.

Don, I assume a rhetorical question, too, but with Jerry, that’s never safe to do.

Kyle B

This article started off so well, then it became another #chase advertisement. NASCAR’s pursuit to be like other sports has caused them to lose their whole identity. They’ve lost so much ground on the big sports leagues. That’s why they’re mentioned alongside the WWE now an it seems like their embracing the entertainment over integrity idea now. You’ll never gain fans if your just like everyone else, you have to be unique. But NASCAR’s gonna keep declining and they’ll keep changing it until its unrecognizable. Only way it turns around is if they put things back the way they used to be.

GinaV24

They’ve been around since 1948 and must be making good decisions. Ha, yeah that was the case right up until the point where Brainless took over and the sport has been in decline ever since. There was NO reason to change the way the championship was decided to be a total crapshoot. It hasn’t made NASCAR more popular and has for the most part resulted in a lot of jokes being made – worse than the usual jokes about cars going around in circles. And the argument that “people are talking about it” doesn’t really hold water either considering that most of the people talking about it are already fans.

Homestead wasn’t sold out until after Gordon’s win at Martinsville locked him in. IMO Homestead is sold out because there are a lot of Gordon fans who want to see him race for the championship one last time.

Tim S.

As usual, I only came here to see what the comments would be like. Gina, both you and Funky D are right. I don’t think anybody in a position of power is prepared for the mass exodus of Gordon and Stewart fans to come. Many of these attendance bumps are tied to Gordon. And the old argument of “look how boring X race would be without the Chase” doesn’t hold up because it is artificial drama, not substantive change like revamping the death march of a schedule, abolishing the kit car, or opening up the gear rule.

I will add that I worry for a lot of the media, though. Fans like you and Bill B are going, “yeah, it would be incredible for our guy to do it, but even if he doesn’t, we’ve enjoyed this.” Many in the PR departm, uh, media seem to be talking as if they will have little to live for if they don’t get their fairtytale Gordon ending.

GinaV24

Hey Tim, I agree, I think much of the attendance bumps in these last races have been due to the concept of “one last time” to see him race in person. I agree, too, with you about the schedule the ugly COT and the tight grip on all things related to the car. I’ve never held out much hope that NASCAR would catch a clue and revamp the schedule as it exists. I almost fell off my chair when they put Darlington back to its original place on Labor Day, but that has nothing to do with the chase.

the media will have to look out for themselves. There are a large number of them who could throw themselves into the sea and I wouldn’t miss them. Of course, if they get that feel good ending and it makes them happy for a brief time, awesome, since it works for me, too. For myself, I am trying not to let my expectations get too far out there, but I do have hope that Gordon will/might possibly pull it off. If it happens, then as his fan, I’ll be happy as a pig in you know what. If it doesn’t, I’ll be slightly less happy than the aforementioned pig but I will still be happy that he (and I) can be done with all the madness that NASCAR has become.

I’ve heard speculation that NASCAR is unhappy that Gordon decided to retire – although I don’t know why that would be unless as you say, it has dawned on someone just how big his fan base is and what it will mean if that fan base leaves as full time fans, rather than choose to support another driver. The man has raced for 23 seasons, has a bad back and has suffered thru more than a few disappointments since the chase was implemented, so he doesn’t owe NASCAR another year. Of course, trying to make sense of NASCAR is a losing proposition.

1 more race, 1 more time to hopefully see Gordon holding the big trophy. After that, I’ll watch him do the Fox broadcasts and hopefully not scream at the TV because of having to listen to Waltrip-ville.

Chris

Gina, did you also read the bit on Jayski about the first time that Jeff heard about the Chase? He was with France and Helton and thought it was a joke until he realized they weren’t joking. Jeff wasn’t thrilled with the concept of the Chase when it first came out and it sounds like he still hasn’t warmed up to it although he stops short of saying anything bad about NASCAR in regards to the Chase. The bummer of it to me is that now, after all these years I like Jeff as a driver but I’m sure going to dislike seeing him in the booth becoming a talking head for NASCAR (Everything’s great, racing has never been better, etc.).

In regards to this article one only needs to read the headline to see what side of the fence the writer falls on in regards to the Chase as Jerry felt the need to refer to the Chase as #TheChase (as well as throughout the article). Clearly NASCAR sent out the memo to push the “#TheChase” in hopes to have it trend. Furthermore if one writes an article that poses two sides to an argument then that same writer should present both side of the argument, not just the agenda he wants to push.

GinaV24

Hi, Chris, yes, I did see it. I’m not surprised to hear he thought it was a joke and no, I don’t think he’s ever been impressed with it, although being the amazingly PC/corporate guy he is, he will speak the words that NASCAR wants to hear. Plus I’m sure he doesn’t want to give NASCAR a reason to be ticked at him and therefore potentially screw him over this year when he has one last chance at it.

I hear you, too, about it being difficult to think of Jeff becoming of the NASCAR tv talking heads but then again, as I’ve said, he has always been very corporate minded. Sometimes that makes me aggravated but it is who he is. I’m quite sure he’s been annoyed as heck at Johnson over the years (only once or twice though did he ever show that in public) and then I’m sure Hendrick got them all together for “milk and cookies” and told them to play nice. Unfortunately IMO that meant Gordon got screwed over by Knaus, too. I was glad to see him move out of the 24/48 shop. Things have been better since then.

Funky D

The only reason why Homestead is sold out is that it is Jeff Gordon’s final race. A great many of those fans are likely to exit the sport after this year. A chunk of Tony Stewart fans will likely do the same after next year. The Chase is driving NASCAR to irrelevancy. It is not likely to close up shop anytime soon, but it is going to be relegated back to the niche that it came from. Artificial drama is not going to sustain it.

salb

So, in a pool tournament, when a player is eliminated from competition, does he stand next to the table with the finalists and get to take a shot whenever he chooses? If two teams are playing football, does every other team have players on the field? THAT is why trying to compare racing with other one-on-one sports competitions is a specious argument. Obviously, Gase and stenhouse, Jr. affected the outcome of the race last night. Could that happen in most other sports? get real.

Traci

Great point, salb. You get to the Super Bowl and theoretically the two best teams in the league meet to crown a champion. BUT, also on the field are players from teams that didn’t win a game all year. And the two best have to be constantly aware and on their guard in case a bumbling linebacker tackles the star quarterback and breaks his arm. In what world does that make sense? Oh yeah, this one. You can’t get the other teams off the track, but the system has to be reworked to lessen their potential impact on those in the playoffs. Period.

Steve

Using the golf analogy, all the golfers in their playoff tournaments (I’m assuming you are comparing their playoffs to Nascar) all players involved in that particular tournament are also eligible for their championship. And really, golf has just as many problems with their playoffs as Nascar does and its taken about as seriously by their long time fan base as long time Nascar fans take the Chase.

Jerry, can’t wait to hear what you have to say when a large portion of the fan base does not come back next year.

brokenarrow

Duck, Jerry! You offended the First Wives Club again……….

My own [irrelevant] opinion is that the old championship format was flawed as well. Saying “it
s not fair” is part of sports and part of being a fan.

babydufus

maybe i’m having a stroke or something but I have no idea what this blog post posing as a article is actually saying…

Brent

This year is bad and NASCAR hasn’t seen the worst because Gordon & Stewart are still here. The ratings are awful, the empty stands are getting removed or covered up with giant sponsor banners because people are bored to death and can’t justify the cost of what they want for tickets and local hotels fee’s for the type racing that these cars produce. When you combine cookie cutter tracks, cookie cutter cars and vanilla drivers you get boring races with boring interviews. Brian France may be able to negotiate big money t.v contracts but there is a reason the sport is having the sponsor problems and it’s because he doesn’t understand how to mesh the business aspect with the racing without alienating the fan base. Brian France is obsessed with beating the NFL in ratings but what he doesn’t understand that what made NASCAR different was what made it appealing! He is trying to manufacture drama and excitement by creating a Chase that does nothing but allow him to micro-manage the hell out of it. He has taken any credibility that the sanctioning body had and washed it down the toilet by being so inconsistent with their enforcement of rules and changing them whenever the wind blows to suit their agenda. People who are complaining are the fan base who are pissed at what the sport has become and the casual fans are just turning the channel!

GinaV24

Well said, Brent.

J. Smith

Now Jerry that is a terrible article. I enjoyed it, glad to see you’re feeling better.

Bill B

Is #TheChase Helping Or Hurting NASCAR?

I don’t know Jerry. Why don’t you graph out the relevant factors that can be used to measure such things (ticket sales, ratings, revenue, t-shirt sales, diecast sales, etc.) from 1995 to 2015 (20 years) and you tell us? I think you will find a steady decline from about 2 years after the chase started to the present. People gave it a chance the first two years, saw it for what it was, and moved on. Some of us that have hung around have done so only because of the loyalty to our drivers.

As for your feeble attempt to compare the dumbass chase to other sports you seem to be able to account for everything but allowing eliminated participants/teams still competing head to head with the victors. When you find an example of that by all means please let us all know. I’d certainly be interested to hear it.

GinaV24

ha, ha, let’s not confuse anyone with facts, Bill.

PastPrime

” So, as I cover the motorsports world and follow NASCAR each week, I read the comments about this and other columns and I wonder why so many people are so down on NASCAR. Some people, who claim to be loyal fans, denigrate NASCAR to a point that, if others listened to them, they might believe it will meet its demise in the coming years, if not months. ”

Your comment above is correct. Years ago, I was a cheerleader and salesman for NASCAR racing. Then, NASCAR decided to snub me and many other diehard fans like me. They have lost their greatest promoters, ones who used to convey their love for the sport to almost anyone they met.
Many have now adopted the attitude of Kenseth, in that they now are as determined to wreck NASCAR as they were to promote NASCAR before. I am not sure that they will ever be won back, but I am pretty sure that they won’t as long as Brian is in charge. His comment using the highbrow term “quintessential” just serves to show how oblivious he is to those who were probably the reason for the rise of NASCAR in the past.

PastPrime

I don’t mean to imply that Kenseth is determined to wreck NASCAR. Kenseth said he was a supporter of Legano until the wreck, but that had changed. That is the attitude that many diehard fans developed after being rejected by NASCAR in spite of their love and promotion of NASCAR that lead to its rise.

GinaV24

PastPrime, well, I’m kind of with you but not exactly. I don’t want to “wreck” NASCAR but I’m tired of them disregarding the fan base that was so loyal for so long and having them and the media tell us over and over that we are “stupid” because we don’t agree with what they are doing.

No, I’m no longer a supporter of NASCAR. They have had lots of opportunities to listen and understand where the fans were coming from and let’s face it, the downturn in attendance and ratings in NASCAR was ignored or excused by them. After all, it just couldn’t be the racing! Well, yes, as a matter of fact, it is. The dull boring racing on dull boring tracks and then a championship format that is nonsensical at best.

J Michael

The NASCAR chase is too contrived for my interest in stock car racing, so I do not watch these 10 spectacles. I also avoid watching the demo derbies at the restrictor plate tracks.

dan

After yesterdays excuse for a race ended with 90 some laps left to finished,i first thought ok this is going to be a long nite because nascar wouldnt be dumb enough to call it quits on the race that would decide the championship.then i seen the interview with brad K and realized he knew something i didnt,nascar had no intention of restarting the race and brad knew it.nascar is really that STUPID!to end that race the way they did is a insult to all fans of all drivers and the sport,think about it,what other sport would do something this stupid,it would be like playing the NFC and AFC championship game 3 qts and declaring who ever was ahead was going to the superbowl,or ending the NL and AL champ series at game 7 in the 8th inning to decide who goes to the world series.brian france wants his game 7 moment,ending a race with 90 laps left isnt going to get it.nascar has lost all credibility as a sport,i feel like a fool ive watched this farce for so long what a waste of time

KokomoJoe

The whole notion of a champion got over-hyped back in the 90s when Childress/Earnhardt starting dominating and teams started finding ways to game it (extra cars to fill the field, lead on lap, etc.). The points system was not originally developed to reward winners, it was made to reward those that were loyal to all races the entire season. Back before the big boom of the ’90s, not every team ran the entire schedule. The point system was a way to encourage a team to run the entire season (sometimes over 40-50 races, with midweek shows.

So consistency often gave championships and the $$ soon found its way to it to make it super attractive. So, then weaknesses came out about how consistency trumped wins — ala the Chase!

So really point championships do not belong in racing at the level they are at today. Every race should stand on its own instead of “points racing” on Lap 1 of the Daytona 500.

Carl D.

Cheerleading for Nascar by comparing it to billiards and golf sounds to me like the ramblings of desperate writer drunk on too much Kool-Aid. Your Pom-Poms are showing, Jerry.

russ

Its their series so they have the right to do whatever they want. That said to allow the other, non chase drivers to function as moving chicanes/billboards makes it something of a joke.
But its not costing me anything so “boys have at it”.

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