How can "three" ever be more than "ten"?
At first glance, it's impossible. That is, unless you're Jamie McMurray.
Because, with his win at Charlotte last night, Jamie McMurray has done what few mathematicians ever could: Make "three" add up to more than "ten". With wins at Daytona, Indianapolis and now at NASCAR's home track of Charlotte, McMurray has singlehandedly proven that being in the ten race Chase for the Championship isn't the end all and be all in the sport.
And that alone should give NASCAR massive pause.
Because it's not good when one of your own unintentionally discredits your championship system by being a repeat champion.
Some may think it's hyperbole. But let's look at the facts:
What has McMurray done this year?
He's won at Daytona, placing him in honored company.
Win at Daytona and Indianapolis in the same year? You're elite.
But Win at those spots plus Charlotte DURING the playoffs, while beating all of the other drivers who are actually running for the Championship, and suddenly you are the one of the best. Period.
Just one problem: You yourself are not eligible for the Championship. Why? Because you're not in "the Chase".
And suddenly, after doing what few have ever done in NASCAR, the question begins to surface in fans minds: "Wait. Why isn't this guy eligible for a championship? I mean, he's won at NASCAR's biggest tracks all in the same year. He's beaten the best drivers at the best places. So why is he not running for a Championship and someone like Jeff Gordon, who hasn't even won once this year, is? When did 'being in the Chase' become more important than winning?"
And with no ill will meant towards Gordon, it's a really good question. Because that question highlights why the Chase has become a failure: There is no good reason why he shouldn't; he's not part of it because NASCAR says so. That's "the system" and that's that.
But racing is about winning. And he's done it. You dont race to "make a Chase"; you race to win. And he's won at the biggest places in NASCAR's lore. If racing isn't about winning, then no one should have a problem with Gordon or anybody else without wins running for a Championship. But it IS about winning. So we do. "Just because" isn't a good enough answer to keep one of the best drivers of the year out of chance for the Cup.
So if it's not the driver, then something must be wrong with "the System".
And thus Jamie McMurray's success has de-legitimized the Chase in ways no editorial or broadcast team ever could. He should be in there, but he isn't. But not because he's a bad driver. Thus, it's "the Chase" that's the problem.
But the luster isn't gone in the fans' minds only. It's the drivers themselves. Or rather, the driver.
Because, you'd think that a guy who had always wanted to win a championship would be aching at the fact of not being in the field fighting for one.
You wouldn't think that same guy would be content for not being in the playoffs, and even deem his season a raving success.
But he does. Jamie McMurray realized, well before the Chase began, that this season was a massive win. Beating the Chase drivers at Charlotte during the Chase only brought that fact uncomfortably to light for NASCAR. Because the majority of the fans -- and NASCAR itself -- agrees that his season, even without the Chase ,has been a raving success. But it's never good when someone who should be in the hunt for the biggest prize unintentionally says with his performance "well, actually, it ISN'T the biggest prize: See; I've won and i'm still winning. Your prize doesn't really matter to me this year because I'm still a champion."
It is never good when the premier event of your sport is shown to be not as important as you would make it out to be by the very competitors fighting for it.
It makes it look cheap. Staged, even. Because if it doesn't matter to those who should be racing for it, why should it matter to the fans watching?
And the answer to that question may be the biggest reason why NASCAR needs to drop whole thing all together.