The upcoming 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup is the marquee part of every NASCAR season.
Over the course of the first nine years of the Chase, NASCAR worked out the bugs and made some necessary tweaks to give fans an optimal playoff.
But whenever NASCAR fans get together and talk about the Chase, the selection of tracks that make up the playoffs is almost always a hot topic of conversation.
Why are some tracks in the Chase while others aren't? Why isn't a road course in the mix? Why are there five 1.5-mile tracks in the Chase?
Those are all excellent points.
And as we prepare for the 10th edition of the Chase, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the track makeup we see today may not be the track makeup we see in another couple of years.
Two things on the horizon could spell some significant change in upcoming editions of the Chase.
First, the mega-billion dollar new TV package with FOX and NBC that kicks in in 2015. Second, the current contract for Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway expires after next year's season-ending race—and it's likely there will be some serious jockeying among other racetracks to lure the season finale away from HMS.
As we prepare for the Chase field to be set following Saturday's final qualifying race at Richmond, we thought we'd put together what we believe would be the ultimate Chase, including some tracks that are already in it—and others that should be in it.
We were very cognizant of late fall weather when coming up with this slate of tracks and their locale, as well as making sure the three largest metropolitan markets were represented.
But with 23 racetracks on the schedule, you also want to be fair to as many as possible. So, we're going to throw a little twist into the selection process: to reach as many fans and geographic areas as possible, we've included four round-robin dates, where a particular race in the Chase will alternate between two tracks every other year.
Here's our list. Do you agree? Was there a track we left out that you strongly feel should be in? Let's hear your thoughts.
There's no question that the Brickyard 400 has lost a great deal of its luster—particularly attendance—over the last five-plus years. Seeing so many tens of thousands of empty seats is both disheartening and discouraging.
What better way to regain some of that luster than to start the Chase at, perhaps, the most iconic racetrack in the world?
If the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the greatest spectacle in racing, why can't the Brickyard 400 at IMS become one of the greatest spectacles of the Chase?
This is a no-brainer. Bristol Motor Speedway used to be the hottest ticket in NASCAR, with waiting lists that sometimes exceeded 10 years.
But since the economic downturn that began in 2007, and like most other racetracks, Bristol has suffered attendance drops at both of its yearly races.
While we love the late August Saturday night race, would it really be that hard to change it to a late September Saturday night race—and in the Chase to boot?
Much like Indianapolis, putting a legendary track like Bristol into the Chase is long overdue.
Let's face it, NASCAR has to maintain a presence in the New York market—even if that presence is three to five hours away.
While Pocono is the closest to the Big Apple at about two hours away, weather in early October may not be conducive for a race on a 2.5-mile track. And yes, even though weather is also a concern there, there's nothing like a crisp fall October morning in New England.
New Hampshire deserves to maintain its place in the Chase because every race there is almost always a sellout, not to mention, it brings in international flavor with a number of fans coming from Canada to the race.
Likewise, Dover—which in addition to New York and New Jersey, also draws heavily from Philadelphia and the Baltimore-Washington metro areas—has been a good soldier throughout the Chase and deserves to retain its spot.
But because there are only 10 races in the Chase, something has to give. That's why we made the third race of the Chase one of four round-robin picks, where New Hampshire would host the Chase one year and Dover the next.
We're really torn on this one. Chicago is now in its third year as the kickoff race to the Chase and has done an excellent job in setting the tone and pace for the rest of the playoffs.
The third-largest metro market in the U.S. needs to be in the Chase, and if Indy starts the Chase, Chicago would still be a very pivotal race to kick off the middle part of the playoffs.
Yes, it's a compromise, but there's no question Chicago is NASCAR's kind of town—and should stay that way.
One of the most-asked questions when fans talk about the Chase is "Why isn't there a road course in it?"
For probably the first five or six years of the Chase's existence, I was against a road course race in the playoffs, fearing that the inclusion of a ringer race, so to speak, would be bad for the 12 Chase competitors.
But given some of the racing we've seen at Sonoma and Watkins Glen during the course of the regular season over the last three or four years, I've come to the conclusion that yes, it's time for a road course in the Chase.
Watkins Glen is a great track and would also draw fans from New York City, but Sonoma is equally popular and would draw a greater number of fans from San Francisco, Sacramento and much of the rest of Northern California and even Oregon and Washington State.
Geography wins out in this one, and Sonoma takes the checkered flag.
Many fans question having a restrictor-plate race in the Chase, but if we're going to have every other type of track in the playoffs, a plate track needs to be in it.
But we propose one twist, which sets up our second of four round-robin selections in the Chase.
Talladega has provided several exciting moments in the Chase—not to mention some scary ones with crashes—and deserves to remain in the playoffs.
But so, too, does Daytona. And given that both it and Talladega are the only two plate tracks on the overall schedule, and if we take out Homestead from the Chase (which we will talk about in a minute), NASCAR still needs a Florida-based race in the playoffs.
Ergo, Talladega one year and Daytona the next. You still have great side-by-side action, plates, crashes and two of the greatest tracks in the sport on the Chase dance card.
This was one of the most difficult decisions to make.
Charlotte has been an excellent venue in mid-October for the Chase. But so, too, has Kansas. Both 1.5-mile tracks, they carry an equal amount of weight as to why they should be in the Chase.
Charlotte is arguably Speedway Motorsports Inc.'s crown jewel, while International Speedway Corporation's Kansas Speedway is also just a few miles away from the corporate headquarters of series sponsor Sprint.
Unless NASCAR were to expand the Chase to, say, 12 races, we're stuck in a numbers game here. And the best way to make everyone happy is to make it another round-robin part of the schedule—Charlotte one year and Kansas the next.
It's time Darlington is brought into the Chase fold. One of the sport's oldest, but most beloved, tracks, it deserves to be in the Chase (even if it means taking away a Chase race from another endearing track like Martinsville).
At the same time, NASCAR needs to regain a presence in the No. 2 media market back in the Chase, even if Southern California hasn't exactly in the past supported the sport and racetrack as much as it could or should.
By having Darlington one year and Auto Club Speedway in California the next, it will hopefully appease fans who want both tracks to have a presence in the Chase, even if it would be every other year.
This was another one I was really torn on. Without question, Texas deserves to be in the Chase every season. With a potential crowd of 125,000-plus, it is the shining star in the southwest part of the country in the Chase.
But keeping Texas in every year forces us to drop a track that is one of our favorites—Phoenix International Raceway. Again, it's a numbers game.
And while we'd love to find a way to keep PIR in the Chase, we really can't justify another round-robin situation in this instance because Texas can easily draw double the crowd in Phoenix.
One alternative might be to have Phoenix split a weekend with, say, Bristol, but it's much the same situation as with Texas: Bristol can easily draw twice as many fans as Phoenix.
While Homestead-Miami Speedway has been a good venue to end the season at the last decade-plus, Las Vegas in our mind would be a much better way to end the Chase.
The promotional opportunities are greater, NASCAR could hold its season-ending banquet a day or two after the race, fans would be able to combine attending a race with a mini-vacation, the entertainment opportunities are innumerable and hotel rooms are more than plentiful and cheap.
Sure, we may have to put up with an Elvis imitator or two, but so much more could be done to end the Chase and close the season with even greater memories—not just race-based—that it becomes as much of a no-brainer as putting Bristol into the Chase.
Oh yeah, and Viva Las Vegas sounds so much better than Viva Homestead, doesn't it?
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