Has NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup Format Been a Success?

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Has NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup Format Been a Success?
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Jimmie Johnson is a six-time winner of the Chase.

Ask 20 different people how they feel about the Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Championship and you may receive 20 different answers. Now 10 years old, the Chase has always had its fair share of both supporters and detractors. 

With so many varying opinions on NASCAR's playoffs, the question is: has it been successful, or should the sport just go back to its traditional way of crowning a series champion?

Regardless of anyone's feelings, the short answer to the question is yes: the Chase has been successful. It has been so successful, in fact, that NASCAR should also mandate a Chase format for use in both the Nationwide Series and the Truck Series to determine their champions.

One argument used against the Chase is that it does not always reward the best driver over the course of the entire season, and it only determines which driver was the best during the final 10 weeks.

The problem with that logic is that is exactly what a playoff system is designed to do.

A great example is last year's NFL season and subsequent Super Bowl. The Baltimore Ravens entered the playoffs as the fourth seed out of six teams in the AFC. They went on a roll and ended the season as world champions.

No one would say that Baltimore was the best team over the course of the entire season, but when it mattered most, they upped their game and capitalized on their playoff opportunity.

NASCAR's postseason is no different. 

After 26 races, the 12 best regular-season drivers qualify for the Chase and have 10 races to fight for the championship. Whichever driver and team are able to perform the best earn the series title.

Over the 10-year history of the Chase, five drivers that won the championship would have also won the title had it been contested under the traditional format.

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards tied atop the Chase standings in 2011.

Under the old system, Jimmie Johnson would only be a three-time series champion instead of the six-time champion that he currently is. Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards, meanwhile, have each missed out on two championships thanks to the Chase format.

Love it or hate it, the Chase for the Championship does exactly what it is supposed to. It pits the top drivers against each other and forces them to compete for every spot on the track for 10 straight weeks.

The Chase adds excitement that may otherwise be lacking if the championship was decided any other way.

The fact that anyone could be opposed to a NASCAR playoff has become mind boggling. If the NFL or Major League Baseball decided to drop its postseason and just award the championship to the team that had the best record over the course of the season, there would be outrage.

And yet, that is essentially what those opposed to the Chase are asking NASCAR to do. Sure the old system worked in the early years of the sport, but times have changed. In today's sports world, playoffs are necessary.

Could the Chase be better? Absolutely. It would be great to have a better variety of tracks. More than one night race would help. Maybe even adding eliminations and knocking a driver out of the playoffs after each race would spruce things up.

There are plenty of things NASCAR can do to improve the Chase, but the fact is, overall, the system works. 

It took over 50 years, but in 2004, NASCAR finally joined the rest of the sports world and implemented a playoff system to crown their champion.

In the 10 years since, we have seen everything that postseasons are known for. There have been surprise champions (Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski), dominating performances (see Jimmie Johnson in 2009) and plenty of heartbreak, most notably Carl Edwards losing the 2011 title to Tony Stewart via a tiebreaker.

While there is still work to be done to make the Chase as good as it can be, it is time that we at least give NASCAR credit. The Chase gives fans a playoff. It adds excitement and drama to the end of the season.

Unquestionably, the Chase for the Championship has been one of NASCAR's greatest successes.

 

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