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Two-Headed Monster: Is the Chase in XFINITY & Trucks a Good Idea?

NASCAR announced Tuesday it will adopt its controversial Chase playoff format to the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series tours beginning in 2016.

The new iterations of the Chase will look slightly different from the version the Sprint Cup Series currently uses, although the hallmarks – playoff rounds with eliminations, a win-and-you’re-in qualifying process and automatic berths for wins in the playoffs – will remain a large part of the format.

In the NXS, 12 drivers will qualify for a seven-race Chase with two rounds of eliminations. The Chase will begin at Kentucky Speedway and end at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

In the CWTS, eight drivers will make the Chase prior to the playoff-opening race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Like the NXS, the trucks will run seven races in the Chase, with two rounds of elimination and a finale at Homestead.

It should be noted that Sprint Cup drivers who qualified for the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup are not allowed to run in the season finales for the two lower series.

“Fans, partners and the industry have embraced the new Chase format like nothing we’ve seen in the sport’s history,” Brian France, CEO/chairman of NASCAR, said. “Winning never has been this important, and the excitement generated the past two seasons in the Sprint Cup Series has led to this implementation of the Chase format in all three national series.”

The announcement was surely a monumental day for NASCAR, but is the Chase format really the best thing for the sport as a whole?

Question: Is a Chase Format for the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series a Good Thing?

Opinion 1: No. Not at All. Why Are We Even Talking About This?

Written by Sean Fesko

Following the announcement of the new Chase formats, fans immediately took to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit – whatever social media sites on which NASCAR fans congregate – to voice their opinions on the Chase. Much of it was negative, and for good reason.

This version of the Chase doesn’t belong in the lower series for all the same reasons it doesn’t belong in the Sprint Cup Series. While it will provide up-and-comers with consistency regarding championship formats, it disregards the history of a sport that has largely rewarded consistency. Plus, eliminations just don’t work all that well in a sport where so much of the outcome is out of one’s control.

Did Jimmie Johnson deserve to win the championship in 2015? Probably not, but he effectively didn’t even have a chance once his car broke at Dover during the first round. Likewise, Joey Logano, who did deserve a shot at the title, was taken out due to a crash, a blown tire and a rain-shortened race. The current Chase rewards flashes of brilliance but, despite what officials say, doesn’t allow much of an opportunity to overcome the bad days.

(CIA Stock Photography, 2015)
Under this new Chase format, Ryan Reed, generally an also-ran in 2015, would have made the XFINITY Series Chase. (CIA Stock Photography, 2015)

Further, the lack of series-regular competition, especially in the NXS due to Cup interloping, means that while the Chase fields will be composed of series regulars, they will largely be filled by teams that run mid-pack week in and week out. Those teams that contend for top 10s will already be the ones competing for the championship, so adding a Chase ripple isn’t doing much other than bunching the field up.

Under the current rules, fans on Twitter pointed out, drivers like Ryan Reed, Jeremy Clements and Ross Chastain would have made the 2015 NXS Chase. If you asked, “who?” you’re forgiven, because unless you follow the series closely you wouldn’t even know they were there – even though Reed won the season-opening race at Daytona. He finished the year 10th in points; Clements and Chastain were 14th and 15th, respectively.

Such a format gives these drivers publicity and helps their teams financially (or, at least, one would hope), but they aren’t championship contenders by a long shot. Since this is the case, will television partners even cover them? I didn’t see much coverage of Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer and (with the exception of his Dover battle with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) Jamie McMurray on the Cup side during the Chase last season. Sure, Chastain and Clements would have made the Chase, but with no television coverage it’s as if they aren’t there anyway.

How can NASCAR assure these teams coverage, and by extension sponsorship opportunities? Limit the Cup driver participation. Yet NASCAR didn’t roll that into its proposal; without it, the Chase will be nothing more than the glorification of small teams with no shot at the title while penalizing the teams that were already competing light years ahead in the championship battle. Is it really fair that one of those contenders be knocked out due to a Logano-type streak of bad luck when the driver taking his place struggles to finish in the top 15?

What it really comes down to is not focusing on the big picture. Sure, the previous two years on the NXS side has had a lack of championship drama, but before that there were plenty of close point battles. Remember Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2013? The CWTS, too, has had good battles and runaways. It’s part of the ebb and flow of racing. But in today’s instant-gratification culture, such things are seen as unacceptable. Officials lose sight of the forest for the trees.

And what a forest they’re missing.

Opinion Two: If the Chase is here to stay, we might as well go all-in

Written by Matt Stallknecht

Seemingly every year in the month of January, the NASCAR media tour kicks off with the sport’s officials swooning over the latest slate of changes to come to the sport. For better or worse, there is perhaps no other sporting organization on the planet which refreshes its rule book at the frequency NASCAR does so. This season, the biggest changes will come on the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series side of things, as each division will now feature a pared-down version of the Cup series’ elimination-style Chase system.

It certainly doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that this is a controversial decision on the part of NASCAR. The Chase is already a lightning rod of controversy on the Cup side of things, and I probably don’t have to summarize the many reasons for why a portion of the fan base is against the idea of playoffs in this sport. However, regardless of where you stand on the Chase debate, adding Chase systems to the XFINITY and Truck divisions was the right decision for each series.

When it comes to the Chase, there is no right or wrong viewpoint to carry, which is something I wish people on both sides of the issue would understand. Acceptance of the Chase system is predicated on a fundamental re-thinking of the sport, the length of the season and the idea of what a championship is. The Chase does not reward the team that was best over the duration of the season. But here’s the catch: No playoff system does, in any sport.  That’s not the point of a playoff system. Playoff systems are designed to reward teams who improve over the course of a season and maintain that performance when the stakes are gradually raised. And more importantly, playoffs are designed to create excitement and drama.

The Chase does all of these things, so in that narrow sense it has been a success. But that is not even the reason why I support the idea of extending the system to NASCAR’s lower division. The reason why this decision was a sound one is simple: It is an example of NASCAR sticking by its guns.

Whether you like the Cup series version of the Chase or not, both NASCAR and its many stakeholders (including NBC, who has a $4.4 billion investment in the sport) have invested far too much in the system at this point for it to be abandoned. In other words, it is here to stay whether we all like it or not. It is thus prudent of the sport to do whatever it can to bolster the brand of the Chase and do what it takes to make the concept a success. In this sense, extending the format to the lower divisions helps establish brand consistency, which is a crucial element in making this kind of intellectual property a success.

NASCAR has made its bed, and it now has to lie in it. By extending the Chase to the XFINITY and Truck divisions, it has effectively communicated that it stands by its new vision of the sport and is committed to making new-school NASCAR work by any means necessary. You may not agree with that conception of the sport, but in order to make that conception work, they will have to go all-in on the ideas that make up their new vision.

Establishing a Chase in XFINITY and Trucks is a good step towards staying true to that goal.

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About Sean Fesko

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Sean returns as a ringer in 2017, contributing once a month because he (gasp!) is living it up in the big city without internet. While he's not consuming race news on the Twitter app and reddit he's writing a ton of short stories and paying the bills by working in marketing.

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10 comments

  1. Avatar

    So, the ‘chase’ has been wildly popular? Tracks are removing empty seats with regularity, and TV ratings have fallen steadily for 10 years. If this is Brian France’s definition of overwhelming popularity, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn he needs to buy.

  2. Avatar

    How come because of a crazy idea, the idea of a champion has to be modified and diluted? It goes against the grain of common sense that has been most folks DNA since birth, especially in watching motorsports. The vast and incomparable likening to stick and ball sports has no place in motorsports. A season long champ is no longer required and frowned upon. How is validating a champ by constant changing of the rules valid along with the contrived WWE road to get there? Stats and what our eyes see, we know different, despite what manipulation we just witnessed and the luck of one driver at one race is considered the champ. I do believe Brian can a have ring toss in the infield at a random track and whoever is victorious Brian will gladly crown the year long champ, and declare him awesome and worthy, and some actually jump to that tune. It must be the participation trophy crowd. I don’t understand the attitude about something that is so freaking stupid, manipulative, morally wrong built on a heap of lies, that we are suppose to suck it up and revise our way of thinking to appease the stupid people and agree that yes..this truly is the “champ”. Modifying a definition of a season long champ and asking people to accept it, to me is knowing it is sunny out and people tell me it is raining and I am suppose to run in the house and get my umbrella to go along with the general lunacy of the folks telling me it is raining.

    Now if Brian was honest and said this is not about a season long champ anymore, no matter how many wins, top 5’s, top 10’s etc…it is no longer matter as a season long achievement, but it only counts who is the luckiest at the last race at Homestead, that at least might be a glimmer of honesty….

    And a “portion” of the fan base? More like the majority if you are paying attention and being honest.

  3. Avatar

    It’s more of Brian’s “brilliant” ideas. ‘Nuff said! More than enough.

  4. Avatar

    IMHO the reality is that Nascar has achieved its goal with the Chase. Before you say that I’m crazy think about it. Under the old season long format few people other than the competitors themselves cared about the Championship. Yes it was something where the winner got a nice trophy and a check otherwise who cared. Now however thats all you hear from the first race to the last. Is it flawed? without a doubt but it does keep them in the sports conversation where they wouldnt otherwise be.

    Since the truck and Xfinity series were bordering on irrelevance they had to do something. Guess this is as good as any.

    • Avatar

      Are you crazy? No, I think it’s me. I’m one of the few that pays attention to a championship the entire year. To me, a championship battle is like reading a novel, each chapter (race) building on the previous. For example this year, Ryan Dungey is off to another strong start in Supercross. This interests me because I want to see him get beat. I watch every lap hoping to see him get a bad start, get pushed off track or to see Tomac or Roczen outright outrun him. It’s the passion that I’ve lost with NASCAR in the chase era for obvious reasons. Smoke, mirrors and completely whored up, today’s NASCAR championships are like reading the National Inquirer (educated guess) comprised of a bunch of sensational fiction stories that leave you empty at the end.

      • Avatar

        GOLD STAR FOR JSmith! “…completely **ored up” Lol, wow! No more succinct & poetic commentary have I heard since the inception of the “chase”! Kudos! The “chase” is for “crazies” like Russ, that watch parts of one or two races per season, regardless …gimmicks, bells, whistles, dog & pony show, or not! So way would anyone, let alone an organization that WAS as successful as Nascar, disregard a dedicated following to pursue someone like Russ or peeps that are marginal supporters & always will be? As I said above, in my opinion, it is like they are seeking to replace 20 dedicated fans, that when to 10 races per season (ie: JS & I) with ONE fan that watches ONE race per year on TV (Russ) no matter how much you **ore it up.
        I equate this to shooting yourself in the gut, to not spite your pinky toe! ps: consider that line stolen Mr Smith!

        • Avatar

          Biff if you can refrain from personal attacks on people you dont know long enough
          let me point out the following. What I said was that Nascar has achieved their goal by creating discussion about the championship. Something that beforehand most people didnt care about. And to be fair probably still don’t. This lets them stay in the news during the week when they otherwise wouldn’t. And that is borne out by the number of posts on this website. Whether we agree or not doesnt matter. Even with that you see the massive drop in interest once football season starts.
          .

  5. Avatar

    The site should be commended. I expected the opinions to be Jordan saying that it was the best idea since the 1.5 mile quad oval, and Stallknecht saying that no, it was the best idea since the COT. I do agree with Stallknecht though. They may as well go all-in with their goofy gimmicks. I won’t even be watching closely enough to be bothered by it.

  6. Avatar

    [Sean] “Chases” supposedly glorifies the chosen few front runners. These teams would already have attention regardless of the format. So, in my opinion (imo), your point is moot. The larger effect of “chases” is that rest of the field gets ignored. The sanctioning body’s “chase” systemically directs fans, sponsors & media support to a few specific teams. In doing so, it directs them away from mid-pack runners. POINT OF FACT: There would be no Championship, no Cup series, no races & no show without these teams! Mid-pack teams DO NOT DESERVE to have their opportunities & relevance diminishes & the deck stacked to make rich teams richer! Ie: Cup #43 ended with 5 top 10’s & 2 top 5’s in the last 11 races of the ’15 season, yet these RPM accomplishments are marginalized & lost below the din of “chase” hoopla! Imo, this effect will be catastrophic on marginal NXS & CWT teams.
    The “instant-gratification culture” is not interested in motor-sports, period. A sports that is designed to reward consistency over a long duration of time will NEVER garner interest among such people! Why would people with no interest in motorsports & short attention spans suddenly become interested in motorsports …AFTER you have destroyed all of it’s integrity? This is a counter-intuitive thought process that began with the advent of the Chase 13 years ago! Even if Chases did instigate interest, why would such newbies watch, go to or pay attention to any of the “regular season” or “chase” races, if it is all boiled down to what happens during the final race? Hypothetically, imo it seems they are seeking to replace 20 fans that when to 20 races per season with ONE fan that watches ONE race per year on TV.
    [Matt] Agreed! Chase are the equivalent of breast enhancement. They are for making money in the short term, much like a pole dancer or center fold & ignore long term sustainability. But unlike adult entertainment, with racing, such enhancement & manipulation compromises the integrity of races, the season & the sport as a whole! Racing championships are incomparable with stick & ball playoffs! Hearing THAT from “Danny-Boy” would be honesty!

  7. Avatar

    Well if I liked the “chase” concept, I might say yes but since I don’t the answer is how does adding it help 2 series that are already struggling for $ and bringing fans to the races?

    Brian and some of the media insist that the “chase” is wildly popular but it doesn’t seem like that in my observation which includes downturns in track attendance and tv ratings. Of course I’m sure the tracks really wanted to remove all those seats that — USED to have people sitting in them.