Race Weekend Central

The Frontstretch 5: Unintended Consequences of NASCAR’s Chase Era

1. Nobody wants to be that guy, but…

Do drivers race differently in the Chase? That’s been debated and I think they do. Nobody who’s not in the title hunt wants to have an adverse effect on the championship by inadvertently taking out someone in the title hunt, unless, of course, they’ve been eliminated by someone who’s done them wrong, and then all bets are off.

The drivers still in it also seem less likely to push each other’s buttons for fear of retaliation. So, the non-Chase drivers don’t want to race the Chasers too hard. The Chasers will race each other hard, but not too hard, and eight guys racing hard isn’t really as compelling as a full field. There are a few Chasers who race the non-Chasers like they expect the waters to part for their Chase-ness, but that’s not really great racing when it turns into the Chase driver being a jerk and/or leaving crashed cars in his wake that should not have been wrecked. What it all leads to is racing that’s not very compelling to watch.

2. Somebody is going to be that guy

What sets NASCAR’s playoffs apart from other sports is that there are 40 participants in each event. That means that someone not in the hunt is almost certainly going to have an effect on the outcome at some point. Imagine if a player from, say, the Minnesota Twins running onto the field in Cleveland, plucking a ball out of the air, and it being a legal move.

That’s where racing hits a brick wall in terms of having a successful playoff: There are a lot of drivers out there who could destroy or boost someone else’s title hopes without being in it themselves. Who wants to watch a 400-mile race with just four drivers in it to end the season? The rest of the field makes for compelling storylines, but can also adversely affect the outcome.

3. The weather is its own animal

Mother Nature hasn’t been much of a race fan this year. But while rain-shortened races are legit in terms of producing a deserving winner, are they also legit in determining the champion? That’s a more marginal yes.

There’s really nothing that could have been done differently at Texas, because asking teams and drivers to come back the next day for what might have been a half hour of racing wasn’t a viable option, and neither was restarting in the neighborhood of 3 a.m., though the call to end it early was a bit of a sour note.

(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)
The weather has adversely impacted the Chase this season, but what, if anything, can be done about it? (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

However, I firmly believe that in the Chase races scheduled during the day should be run during the day, because that’s what teams set up for and that’s what will give fans the best race. Night races are a bit more problematic in that they’d have to be on Sunday night, but if afternoon races are postponed to Sunday night, a Saturday night race could be too. I’d like to see all Chase races be day races, but in fairness to the teams, perhaps running them at the time of day originally expected would make a better race for all involved.

4. Wait, there are other guys?

The other thing about the Chase is that to the television broadcasters, anyone not either in the Chase or wrecking with someone in the Chase might as well be invisible, unless they’re leading. Then it’s done begrudgingly, as if they were stinking up the show for the network. While the title hunt is an important storyline, it’s not the only one.

There were 32 sponsors in the race who did not get their money’s worth. The sport can’t afford to lose sponsors over the Chase, and teams really can’t afford it. Plus, it’d be cool if drivers who crashed out of the race were acknowledged a little. Maybe tell their fans they’re OK, or if they needed further evaluation.

Maybe even (gasp!) talk to them, especially if there’s not a lot of action on the track. Go through the field a couple of times. If the Homestead race winner isn’t also the champion, their fans can forget about the victory getting more than passing mention. It’s not that the broadcast needs to give tons of time to everybody, but not giving any time at all only hurts the sport and its fans. The ratings have dropped like rocks this fall, and perhaps fans are fed up with only being allowed to see the Chasers race.

5. If history is made, it still won’t be

Jimmie Johnson is poised to make a run at a seventh title in a couple of weeks. That’s something that has been done exactly twice in NASCAR’s nearly 70-year span, but it will take another generation before fans talk about Johnson with the same reverence as they talk about Earnhardt and Petty. As long as there are people watching who also watched under the old format, they won’t see it in the same light. Only when fans have never known anything but the Chase will they see the titles as just titles, and not tainted by the format. That’s a long time for today’s champions to wait.

About the author

Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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“That’s a long time for today’s champions to wait.

But by that time Brian will have arranged for Johnson’s daughter to be the first female “whatever sponsor” Cup champion.

Don in Ct

If the only championship format is the Chase as presently constituted, there won’t be any NASCAR around in a few more years.


I was waiting for someone else to say that. I said a long time ago that Brian is driving a Hendrick car with four new Goodyear tires full of S’noco race fuel down an icy slope towards a deep abyss. It’s too bad his father wasn’t smarter in his will. There were better choices.


Another chase creation: Lets say Truex leads, nearing the end ( rain or checkers), and Edwards is 4 seconds back in second. Does Truex slow down some (just a little) to let Edwards catch him and move on? Edwards does not advance without a win, Truex cannot advance, with a win. Both are the same manufacture, and basically the same “team”. The same could have been said about Chevys and Hendricks in previous years. Just makes for bad racing…….

Bill B

Actually, in about 20 years they will just start calling the post-chase era, the “modern era” and stats before and after will be treated differently. There will still be debates about who the best was but there will be a line drawn between the two eras.

Biff Baynehouse

1. Nah Ms. Amy. They don’t want to be that guy …until it is time to be that guy! If a “chaser’s” act will benefit them or a teammate, you can consider it done! This season you had the #20, #19, & #18 loaf at Dega & the #48 loaf at TMS. Last season you had the #4 & the #20 intentionally wrecking people. So, willingness to commit unsporting acts depends on circumstances of the races. As the stakes are raised leading up to the “chase” & as it progresses into it’s the latter stages, the likelihood of on-track in-race high jinx occurring increases, in parallel. As the stakes are raise, so raises the likelihood of unsporting acts. It is the driver’s & team’s job to exploit & capitalize on the all foreseeable & even unforeseeable aspects of each & every event. This is definitively NOT to the exclusion of the “chase” gimmick format. At specific times & places the “chase” CLEARLY invites, promotes & rewards unsavory & unsporting acts. Namely, because the “chase” is not a sporting competition. I submit that it has more in common with drawing straws, picking names out of a hat, poker or a pistol duel at high noon.
2 – 3. And it is not just the fact that “non-chasers” can & do impact the “chase” …it is that EVERYTHING does, not to the exclusion of weather. You had the #22 roughed up by non-chasers (#1 & #47) at Martinsville. Then the rain, TX this year & PHO last season. PHO was a “chase cut-off” race, in which a passing shower caused the elimination of the “classic” points count championship leader. So, there you had a race team’s CLEARLY superior 33 event effort eliminated from contention & the Cup eventually handed to a guy who missed 11 races & finished the season -454 points behind the “classic” points leader. And this season, the “classic” points leader (#2) was eliminated at Dega after engine trouble. In both instances, the #4 inherited the “classic” points lead. But this lead is only several points. So, we are being cheated out of a very exciting integral championship & it is being replace by a meaningless gimmick that is devoid of systemic sports integrity & the laughing stock of the Global motorsports community. The best what to defeat these systemic flaws is not to manipulate the schedule or change tried & true decades old policies, it is to DITCH THE CHASE!
4. SPOT ON!! HUGE “chase” flaw from day one! And in their infinite wisdom, Nascar multiplied the negative affects of the “chase” like the plague, such that now you also have diminished media-mention returns for sponsors throughout the NXS & CWT as well. While being somewhat underwhelming this season, I will site the #43’s ’15 season. Aric Amirola finished the final 10 races with 5 top 10’s & 2 top 5’s, yet he was hardly was a blip on the media’s radar. As you say, it was almost as if media was avoiding mentioning Richard Petty’s Team because their “non-chase” status relegated them as being unworthy of media-mentions during the “chase”. Moreover this criticism is VERY valid through out the season. With literally 100’s of HD cameras at events now-a-days, it is inexcusable to not fully decipherer all of the happenstances of Nascar events. Needless to say, it is very difficult to grasp Nascar’s &/or the media’s their logic in FAILING to cover, broadcast & unilaterally support teams that cash paying customers are attempting to follow. And it is has it’s “foil hat” aspects too, since it is the responsibility of sporting sanctioning body or organization to provide a fair & level playing field. With Nascar’s poster-child biased battalion media solders, it is VERY easy to make the assertion that they pump up their poster children (#88, #4 #10, #14, #11, #18, #19 #20). Which is detracts, there-for impedes the efforts of all others. And this sever in-house media bias is VERY unfair, unsporting & unbecoming of Nascar. This is not only largely absent in every other major motorsports category in the World. It is absent from every sport in the World. Because telling people who is worthy & who to support is not only unfair, it’s illegal, but it just so happens to be very difficult to prove in a court of law. But interesting, sporting bodies that espouse integrity go out of their way to insure fairness in the field of play & media, where as Nascar seems to delight in if not flout willingness to flirt with ethical bankruptcy.
5. Yup, I am not even sure a generation gap of ignorance will permit JJ’s championships to be equated with those of the King & Big E. No matter how hard Nascar tries to blur the lines & turn fiction into reality, I can definitively state I never will. Historically, with Nascar & to this day, with every other major motorsports series in the World, the Drivers’ Championship is awarded to the most successful driver over the course of the season, as determined by a year long points system. Now, Nascar’s drivers’ championship is decided by a a craps shot. The two are incomparable & diametrically opposed. There is no parallel! It would be similar to comparing athletes of different sports. So, I would equate it to comparing Michael Jordon & Larry Bird &/or Walter Payton & Joe Montana to *Pete Rose, *Mark McGwire, *Sammy Sosa or *Alex Rodriguez. There are 1000’s of words, definitions & incomparable circumstances hidden behind those asterisks.


You might want to include Joey Logano #22 in your list of wreckers and in your list of TV designated superstars.

Biff Baynehouse

Why on Earth would I do that? #22 has NEVER intentionally wrecked ANYONE. If you are referring to the ’15 KS event, #22 never touched #20, other than the THREE times #20 blocked #22 into the wall. By Ham-bone’s super-secret “Yota driver code”, after being run into the wall 3 x by a blocker, #22 had every right to punt the #20 …BUT DID NOT! No! #20 spun with NO contact from the #22! For that matter, #20 looped it on the track & came to a stop on the apron & did not contact ANYTHING! So NO, you are incorrect about that & I will #22 will not be joining that list. Recent intentional wreckers that would be excluded from any other series in the World, for one year or more reads: #20, #4, #14 & #10. However, I will give #2 honorable mention for chasing #11 threw the garage. But post-race events are a whole separate classification!


I noticed you didn’t list the #2 in your list of media darlings. Hmm Wonder why that is? You could also add the 48 and the 24 to that list as well but you seem to only list Gibbs, Stewart and Jr. Try to be a little objective at least.

Biff Baynehouse

I thought my novel was long enough, so I omitted a few. Honestly, I just rattled off a few, perhaps a few to many, but oh well. #48 & #24 perhaps, but I’d argue that multiple time champions are the real McCoy! Exception being #14, in my opinion, who I view is a disgusting embarrassment to the human race. #14 should have been indefinitely suspended after turning the #44 at Darls.
A Ford poster child in Nascar? Pfft, who knew? I must have missed that one, due to the 100 vs 100 vs 1 …Lil E vs Danica vs SuperBrad dot com links. This just in: Lil E dies his nose hairs & cleanses his bowls! This just in: Danica eats a bean burrito, stay tuned for gastrointestinal developments on the Hub!
Point being, Nascar needs to get out of the filthy business of promoting it’s competitors, bcuz it is impossible to do it impartially …the End!

Biff Baynehouse

*bowels, lol


3.) I may be in the minority on this one, but I thought it was bogus that they ended the race when they did. It stopped raining shortly after they parked the cars on pit road. Watch the interview with Carl. It was not even raining and the radar showed a very small shower passing through the track.

They could have easily dried the track and went the remaining 40ish laps to determine the winner. Its not like they haven’t raced until 3am before? So it begs the question, should we treat Chase races the same as regular races with regards to rain? If every point matters, why aren’t these races run to their full distance? Or does every point matter only when it fits Nascar’s agenda? It may not have been intended but it sure looked like another manipulation job by Nascar got who they wanted into the Final 4.

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