Is NASCAR Going to Change the Chase-for-the-Cup Format Yet Again?

Travis Smith@TravisLeeSmith2Analyst IIJune 17, 2010

CONCORD, NC - MAY 30:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Stars & Stripes Chevrolet, and Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, race side by side during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 30, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

According to , "NASCAR officials are meeting with drivers and team owners to discuss possible changes in the sport, including how the Sprint Cup champion is determined. While NASCAR chairman Brian France has been careful not to make abrupt modifications to the title Chase since its debut in 2004, it seems like changes are due.

The Chase field expanded from 10 to 12 drivers in 2007. That year, NASCAR began awarding 10 bonus points for each race a driver won before the Chase. NASCAR can examine the Chase and other topics because the racing has improved. The meetings that occurred last week—some still need to be held—provided NASCAR with a chance to discuss the Chase, testing, what to do with Cup drivers in Nationwide Series races, as well as other topics.

"They're certainly looking at the future," said Jeff Burton, who joined Richard Childress Racing officials in a meeting with NASCAR last week. "Every conversation I've ever been in with NASCAR, once a year there's a conversation about the Chase. Does it work? Could it be better? That's almost an annual conversation."

With the Chase, some of the questions being asked are about the number of competitors, the format, and how to determine the champion. When asked about possible changes for how the champion is determined, Mark Martin said he told series officials: "Go for it."

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who also met with series officials last week, said: "I didn't get a sense that there was a guarantee on any major changes."

One of the ideas involving the Chase is expanding the field.

Based on the percentage of teams that make the Chase (27.9 percent of a 43-car field make it), NASCAR trails other professional sports when compared to the percentage of teams that make the playoffs. One suggestion from the meetings is resetting the points for the top drivers heading into the final race.

My Thoughts: NASCAR is the most competitive and exciting brand of auto racing in the world today. NASCAR had been lacking that little bit of excitement before 2010; even though the racing has been great this year, people will now be more worried about potential changes to the Chase.

There are a lot of fans who have disliked the Chase since its inception back in 2004, because it dosen't reward a driver for excellence throughout the season. However, there is a group of fans who supported the Chase because it brings new excitement to the sport, and it gives a postseason feel to NASCAR.

The fans who love the Chase are those who were pissed after Matt Kenseth dominated the 2003 Winston Cup Championship by only winning one race that season (Las Vegas).

In my view, the Chase is good for NASCAR because it makes every race "must-see" television; any race can make or break a driver's dream of making the Chase for the Cup. Also, Richmond has the fall race, which has brought in the highest season ratings each year since the Chase began.

To get rid of the Chase entirely would be crazy.

However, NASCAR does need to make a few tweaks within the Chase format.

Since the Chase went to 12 drivers in 2007, the smallest point lead the leader has had was 71 points, which is a huge lead in NASCAR. NASCAR cannot have snoozers of point battles each year; it will end up losing fans around the start of the NFL season because of the lack of drama in the championship battle.

So how does NASCAR change things up for the better? Well that isn't hard at all when you think about it, because anything can beat the current format of the Chase. NASCAR is right on with 12 drivers because it fits into the grand scheme of things. It's a rounded number that makes sense with fans and should be left alone.

Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and even soccer have the elimination-style playoff system in their leagues because it's simple to follow and it creates drama.

Why doesn't NASCAR give it a try then?

Well, it's something fans can understand and really enjoy. NASCAR can have the top 12 drivers in points after the 26th race in the Chase like it is now under the current points format. The top 12 drivers would be in elimination mode, thus creating drama each week, because the lowest-finishing Chase driver would be knocked out of the championship battle and placed back into the old points format.

Here is a quick example of this format: If Dale Earnhardt, Jr. were to be eliminated after New Hampshire, he would go back into the old points system and could still finish as high as second in points.

The final race at Homestead would have three drivers fighting for the title. It also would have fans on the edge of their seats, which would create a buzz for NASCAR and potentially bring in new fans to the sport.

Eliminated drivers also would have a motive behind all of this; they would want to finish in the top 10 in points so they can stand on the stage during the banquet.

Drivers who missed the Chase can still make the top 10 in points under this new format, thus creating hope for them at the end of the season. The owners' title should be decided under the old points format, so it bases consistency as the top prize.

It would have its own reward at the end of the season, and it gives NASCAR the possibility of having a different car-owner champion than driver champion.

Overall, NASCAR needs to tweak the Chase but not let more than 12 drivers battle for the championship. If you have more, you kill the prestige of the Chase and make it seem like a joke to the older fans of the sport.

If you have a comment, please leave it below in the comment box. Also, if you have any suggestions for Chase changes, please place them in the comment box, as well.

The worst opinion in the world is not having one at all.