After the Phoenix Chase race was delayed and cut short by rain, some are calling for NASCAR to change the rules for Chase races so that all laps are completed, even if it’s the next day. Should NASCAR create a new rule?
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: That’s a hard call. If you make a rule that you run all the laps in the Chase, it’s hardly fair to fans the rest of the year who only see half a race, but with this format and the crapshoot it’s become, it’s also not fair to take away opportunity from the contenders. What should have happened at Phoenix was simple: NASCAR knew weather would be an issue and they were likely racing to halfway, so they should have run on Monday, as they should whenever there’s doubt about getting the entire distance, whether it’s in March or November.
Mike Neff, Short Track Coordinator: It is a tough call. It would be better if they enforced their own policy. They claim they’ll never start a race without a window that will allow for completion of the event. There was not enough of a window when that race took the green flag. It actually went further than it should have. That said, having a policy in place where all Chase races must run to completion would be a good idea.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: Creating a “must run all laps” rule for Chase races would likely backfire on tracks during the beginning stretch of 26 events. Here’s a hypothetical example: why does a fan at the fall Talladega race get to see a full number of laps run when MY day at the spring race ends two laps after halfway because of rain? Our tickets were the same price, yet I was sent home early. That isn’t fair. Same goes for race teams. What might have happened had Phoenix been allowed to go the full distance? Might that have changed the look of the championship battle? What’s good for Chase races must be good for ALL races.
Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: Given what’s on the line at Homestead (and in the last four races given NASCAR’s new-excitement-contrived-daily Chase system) these races should all have to run to advertised distance out of fairness especially given the money on the line and career implications for some drivers. It’s not often you see a former Cup champion let go to make way for the latest hot teenager on the block. Of course, what’s the difference if NASCAR makes a rule? They’ll find exceptions to the new rule if it suits them, as in the restart/attempted restart debacle.
Jerry Jordan, Contributor: Stick to the rules. I don’t care what people are whining about. The rules are the rules are the rules. If you don’t like them then change them but not during the race. And, as for making a new rule, I am against it.
Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: The rules are the rules. If the Daytona 500 can end just past halfway – and it can, just ask Michael Waltrip – then there’s no reason a Chase race shouldn’t be able to.
The final four Chase contenders are now set. Who’s most likely to win the big prize, and which would be the best outcome for the sport?
Howell: I think Kevin Harvick has the best shot at winning the championship given his 2015 record, but there’s an argument to be made in support of all the drivers in the Championship Round. A Kyle Busch title would be proof positive that modern medicine and sheer determination are worth the effort. A Martin Truex Jr. victory would make racing fans across the Northeast wildly proud of their rich motorsports tradition. Most of all, a Jeff Gordon title would be about the most storybook ending in all of NASCAR’s history. Any finish here would have significance.
McLaughlin: Statistically speaking, Harvick is the logical choice. He might be a dirty rotten scoundrel (see: Talladega) but he’s a fast dirty, rotten scoundrel. Based on pure emotion, a retiring champion running his last Cup race (presumably — talk to Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace on this topic) a Gordon victory would be so Hollywood even the NFL-obsessed local news sportscasters might make note of it (doubtlessly calling him Gordie Jefferson). Geographically, I guess I should pull for Truex since he’s from across the bridge in Jersey. (He’s from Jersey? Which exit?) Busch winning would open a can of worms with his having missed nearly a third of the season. What’s to keep a driver who wins early next year from saying he’s “emotionally unable” to compete at the plate tracks? I mean if otherwise sane people can get their dogs on an airplane by claiming they are emotional support animals, why not? As I see it, Busch has missed his typical late-season meltdown simply because his biological clock hasn’t caught up to him yet. Someone buy that dude a Jack Russell terrier… with rabies.
Jordan: The best outcome for the sport would be Gordon goes off with a walk-off championship. But there are NO, and I mean NO bad storylines coming out of this weekend’s champion. To quote Harvick, “If you guys can’t find a good story from this stage you all need to be fired.”
Bearden: Harvick has to be the favorite. He’s finished inside of the top three in more than half of the season’s races, for goodness’ sake. As for the best storyline, it has to be Gordon riding off into the sunset with a win. It would give NASCAR a John Elway or Jerome Bettis-style moment and offer lifelong fans one final moment of celebration and memory.
Henderson: As I said in my column, all four have compelling reasons for being good for NASCAR should they win. Harvick earned the most points, so would be seen as legit, and the other three have very compelling reasons for fans to get behind them. As for who I think has an edge, it’s Harvick without a doubt. But you can’t count anyone out, and from a purely sentimental and also an historical standpoint, a Gordon title would truly be one for the ages.
Neff: Harvick has the best average finish at Homestead among the final four. He’s also had the best season of anyone. It is hard to think he’s not the odds on favorite. As for the best outcome for the sport, there is little doubt that a Gordon victory would be fantastic for the sport and justice for a driver who lost at least two titles thanks to the whole Chase concept.
Chris Buescher holds an 18-point lead over Chase Elliott in the Xfinity Series standings, and Erik Jones has a 19-point margin over Tyler Reddick in Trucks. Will they both hang on, or will we see an upset in one or both series?
Jordan: Since I am a Texas guy, I am going to say that Buescher will win but, honestly, only time will tell. In this sport I have come to expect the unexpected. As for Reddick, the same holds true. Even though there is a significant points lead, this is NASCAR.
Bearden: Unless someone lays the bumper to Buescher or Jones, or they suffer a part failure like that one Jimmie Johnson kid did at an inopportune time, the two up-and-coming stars have their titles locked up.
Henderson: Barring disaster, both should be hoisting trophies and big fake checks at the end of the night; the margin is slim enough to give the other drivers and their fans hope but in reality very, very difficult to overcome. And really, both have earned their positions through strong solid racing for 10 months.
Neff: The odds are they will both hold on. It is a rare day that a championship leader has a run where he finishes outside of the top 20, let alone in a title clinching race. They will run conservatively and knock out their first titles in NASCAR national touring series. And y’know, that is OK.
Howell: The NCWTS and NXS championships look to be done deals. Granted, mishaps can occur and mistakes can be made by any driver at any time in any series, but these two divisions seem settled. Nothing like a double-digit point lead to make your last race weekend a little more comfortable. We’ll crown two worthy young champions before Sunday.
McLaughlin: Again, looking at this as a math equation, Buescher and Jones ought to cruise to titles. But you just never know. Remember when Brendan Gaughan seemed to have a title sewn up in the Truck Series (or at least a very good shot at the title) but got wrecked out early in the event, perhaps by design? (“Jimmy Smith can kiss my ass!” he said.) Stay tuned. The Truck race will likely be the undercard on Monday.
NASCAR is considering a Chase format for both the NXS and Truck Series. Is that the way to go for those series?
Bearden: Is this some kind of sick joke? With all due respect to the teams in both series, there are rarely more than a handful of drivers in championship contention by the time the heat of the summer arrives. Without 10-12 consistent threats for the title, there’s nothing to justify the minor leagues getting a playoff.
Henderson: There aren’t enough words in the English language to say “no” enough. The Chase is terrible for the Cup Series, and it would be worse to bring it to the other two series, which have produced compelling title fights without a system and champions who earned their titles the hard way. And about throwing fans the bone of banning Cup drivers: there has to be another excuse to boot the Cup guys out of the majority of the races. Because really, it would be possible to do that without using it to slide a Chase by the fans.
Neff: #$&% no!!!!! OK, I know you can’t print that but I just had to say it. Just put: Good god, no!!!!
Howell: No. Just because NASCAR says the Chase format works for one division, that doesn’t mean it needs to be foisted upon the others. There’s something good to be said about keeping things simple.
McLaughlin: On a basic level, what Mike Neff said. No, not that. What he really said. But then I read a bit deeper. As part of the proposed Chase system in the NXS series, NASCAR wouldn’t allow Cup drivers to run in the AAA series. You can’t have a win-and-you’re-in format if the best the series regulars can do is third or fourth. And of course there’s a lot of fan support for banning the Cup guys from slumming on Saturday. Except, of course, from the track owners who need some Cup guys in the race to sell tickets as attendance and ratings for NXS races plummet precipitously. And it might make it harder for a guy like Brad Keselowski (or Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Busch, etc.) to get a sponsor for their NXS and Truck teams. Currently they can tell a potential sponsor, “I’ll drive the car at some races of your choice and you know I’ll be up front.” Yep, the first NXS Series Chase champion might be running the Billy Bob’s Bait Shoppe and Wrecking Yard Special to his coronation. Ideally, dump the Chase in the Cup Series, don’t adopt it in the lower series and make the Cup guys (top 20 in points or higher) sit out Saturday races.
Jordan: Grab the pitchforks and lanterns because I am about to get burned down: Yes, I support the Chase in all series. But being my indecisive self, I would be OK if things stayed the same because I just want to see good racing.