Chase Format Changes Could Have Surprising Outcomes

David Ragan

(WOMR file photo)

Throughout NASCAR’s history the sanctioning body has modified its point system when it felt necessary, but the new one announced Thursday is the most radical in the sport’s history!

To review, under the new structure winning is everything and consistency is irrelevant; points racing is eliminated.

To win the championship a driver needs to produce at least four victories. That’s one in the first 26 races and then one in each elimination round to reach the season finale where the title recipient will be determined. In the season finale the only requirement for a driver to win the coveted championship is to finish ahead of the other three competitors vying for the title. That could mean a victory or a top-10 finish.

Granted, if the number of winners in the first 26 races don’t hit the double-digit mark, more non-winners can gain entrance into the Chase, however, that’s a chance the teams want to take. Last year after the season’s first 26 races, a dozen drivers had a victory. That meant surprise Talladega winner, David Ragan, also would have been in the Chase.

NASCAR has never restructured a point system without one key thought in mind and that was a way to make the sport more appealing so it could build its fan base. From the time the series now known as Sprint Cup made its debut in 1949 until the mid 70’s, the various point systems used by NASCAR were so complicated that the only people who understood them were those administering them.

Finally, NASCAR implemented a point system in 1975 that competitors, and fans, could understand. It also marked the fifth time the point system had been changed in the last nine years. That point system was designed to encourage more teams to run for the championship.

For the first time in NASCAR’s history every race would carry equal point value and bonus points would be awarded.

Now, it has become obvious to NASCAR that such a system has evolved into “points racing.” Drivers also no longer race solely for a percentage of the winnings because these days the stars of NASCAR  now have a salary.   In fact some of the big names  of the sport have big contract salaries, as well as bonuses and royalties.

While the new system has the potential to create more exciting races, however as time passes, the thought that those drivers who obtained a championship via a year-long performance will have their achievement diminished.  There is something to be said for a team that consistently runs in the top five weekly.

For example, Richard Petty acquired his 1967 championship with his performance in 48 races. David Pearson’s third and final championship measured his performance in 51 races. It is no secret that 1972 marks the beginning of NASCAR’s modern era when the schedule was greatly reduced. In fact, Bill Elliott had 29 races in his 1988 championship season and Dale Earnhardt captured his seventh title in a 31-event 1994 season. Still all of these drivers and their teams had to be the best over an entire season, not just in the 10 race playoffs!

Notwithstanding the fact that Jimmie Johnson is an excellent driver and Chad Knaus is an equally superb crew chief, could this duo produce a championship that was determined by a season-long performance? All of Johnson’s six championships have all come in the Chase format.  Having said that, the HMS #48 Lowe’s  team has mastered the now former Chase format like no other race team!

Carl Edwards said it best when he noted that the new format means it will no longer be possible to compare the sport’s different eras. That could be something that could make selecting NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees even more difficult than it already is.

It appears to me that this new change in Chase format serves two purposes.  My first thought about the change was that it mimics this society’s “instant gratification syndrome”!  My second thought is that it is all about “the show”.  We all know that the success of “the show” is most reflective in the TV ratings.  Therefore, since the start of the NFL season just happens to coincide with “The Chase”, NASCAR has to contend with loosing viewers to the NFL!  That means that NASCAR feels that it must create drama, real or manufactured, to hold the TV viewer.  This move by NASCAR is a very gutsy move, and could go either way with the core fan base!

I am just saying…………..


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.