NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Changes That Would Improve the Chase
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship is one of the most controversial issues facing the sport today.
Since its inception, the Chase has had staunch defenders and bitter detractors as it has gone through its evolution over the past several years.
2011 could bring more changes to the format, all designed to create drama over the last ten races and giving the season finale more of a championship moment.
Here's a look at 10 ways NASCAR could consider to improve its 21st century format for crowning a champion.
Or crowning Jimmie Johnson the champion.
1. End The Chase In Charlotte
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Everyone knows it: South Florida has great weather in November. It's perfect for a race.
But it's not NASCAR's home.
Charlotte, NC is the center of the NASCAR world. Most of the teams are there, most of the drivers live near there, and most of its fans live near there.
It has as high a concentration of the NASCAR faithful as anywhere on the planet.
And the weather is just fine. On the day of the Homestead race in 2010, the temperature was 53 degrees with partly cloudy skies in the Queen City.
The conclusion of the 36 points race schedule should be a homecoming in Charlotte, and for that matter the banquet should be there as well.
NASCAR has made an admirable effort to extend itself to new markets outside of the traditional Southeastern base over the years, but it needs to concede its roots at some level.
A great number of fans made the trip to Las Vegas for the Championship celebration this year, but think of the turnout if it was just right down the road in downtown Charlotte the week after the race.
2. 10 Drivers
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The Chase should have a minimum of 10 drivers. Since the inception of the Chase, no driver has come from 11th or 12th at the reset and won the title.
The field has become watered down by arbitrarily expanding it to 12 Chasers.
The top 12 has no real significance other than that's just the number picked to make the Chase.
In NASCAR, it's about wins, top fives and top tens.
If you're in the top ten in points, you're good enough to make the Chase.
But there should be another way to get in as well.
3. Win and You're In
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If you win, you're in.
That would be a powerful incentive to run up front and take a victory.
We would know at the conclusion of the Daytona 500 at least one of the drivers who will have a shot at the title.
If you can accomplish the feat of winning at the Sprint Cup level, certainly that should prove your worth when it comes to competing for a championship.
It also would allow some wild cards in and make the races down the stretch to the Chase more interesting.
Imagine going into Richmond knowing that even though you're sitting 15th in points, you can still make the Chase by notching a win.
Jamie McMurray had a dream season in 2010, but didn't make the Chase. Someone who garnered that much attention should have been part of the title run.
4. Even Distribution Of Points
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Everyone remembers the Texas race. Kyle Busch was on his way to presumably a top 10 finish when he got into a scrum with non-Chase driver David Reutimann.
After NASCAR qualifies the top ten in points and the race winners into the Chase, give them an easy to understand points system.
The Chasers are really racing each other in a field with other drivers, and they shouldn't impact the outcome if they decide to take a Chaser out.
The last placed Chaser in any race gets zero points.
From there, it increases 10 points per position to the top finishing Chaser.
If a Chaser happens to win the race, he gets a 10 points bonus.
For example, say 13 drivers make the Chase.
The lowest finishing chaser gets zero, the 12th place Chaser gets 10 points, 11th gets 20 and so on all the way to the highest finishing Chaser, who takes 120 points from the race. If he wins, he gets 130.
This way, one disastrous day won't eliminate you from contention because someone can't pull dramatically away from you while you're languishing in 35th at the hands of another driver.
Next week, you can gain a good many of the points back even if that other driver runs well and there's just enough Chasers between you.
Leaders won't be able to get that lead and sit on it if there's a lot of chasers in proximity, which seems to happen a lot since these are presumably the best teams in the series.
5. Wins Count
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Denny Hamlin led the Sprint Cup Series in wins in 2010.
That means something. If you carry wins into the Chase, they're worth 10 points each. That's the same amount of bonus points for winning a race as a Chaser once the playoff begins.
The amount of the reset doesn't really matter much, it can be 5000 points or zero points, just give drivers 10 additional bonus points for each regular season win.
6. Points Leader Bonus
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Using the traditional metric for crowning a champion, Kevin Harvick dominated the 2010 season. He led the points standings week after week with solid run after solid run.
He made a statement by figuring out a way to claw his way into the top 10 even after a poor start on any given weekend.
It propelled him to a nearly insurmountable "classic" points lead as the season hit its final third.
That should mean something.
NASCAR gives out bonus points for leading a race and another for leading the most. Heading into the Chase, give out 10 bonus points for everyone who has led the points and give out an additional 10 for the driver who led the most weeks.
Winning a race is worth ten bonus points, but NASCAR bases its championship on a points system.
Leading the points week after week should be worth something more than the obligatory "if the points were the old way" comparison.
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The battle for position among the Chasers got off to a fast start this year at the Chase opener at New Hampshire.
All of the points increments involving the Chase are in multiples of 10, so there's a high probability of a tie.
The first tiebreaker is Chase wins. Win when it counts the most.
Second tiebreaker is laps led in the Chase.
Regular season wins have already been rewarded with bonus points at the start of the Chase, and the reset puts everyone on equal footing for a ten race run.
If it's a playoff, make it count.
8. Inspection Process
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Clint Bowyer was set to be the Cinderella story of the Chase after opening with a win at New Hampshire.
Then the NASCAR inspection process found the glass slippers.
If NASCAR is about fairness, then it should use the same inspection process for all the cars competing for the title.
Inspect them all at the track, or impound all of them post race for inspection. Selectively intensifying the inspection process looks dubious to the casual fan.
It looks like someone is being picked on.
Prior to the Homestead race the cars of Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick were pre-inspected to avoid a post-race rules infraction due to an inspection discovery. It was the most even handed method to ensure that officiating didn't influence the outcome.
There doesn't need to be a second set of referees deciding whether the winner actually won the race. An equal number of inspections for all Chasers should be enough.
9. Chase Tracks
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Already, it looks like Charlotte would be the best home for the season finale. We don't need a preview of that track earlier in the Chase.
Atlanta is two races prior to the start of the Chase, and Texas is in it. They're all different tracks, but similar in layout and just for the average observer they look like the same place.
If NASCAR ended the season in Charlotte, it needs to find a new home for the fall Texas date.
While officials are maneuvering races inside the Chase, here's an idea: a road course.
NASCAR currently has two road courses on its schedule. Move one of them into the Chase near the beginning since it can get cold in either Watkins Glen or Sonoma as the calendar moves ahead.
The sport likes to point to those races and say that their presence on the schedule makes for a true and complete test of a driver's skill.
That talent should translate to a leg up in the Chase. We have a plate race, a short track and a handful of intermediates, so not having a road course in the Chase doesn't paint a full picture of the skill required to succeed in NASCAR's top division.
10. Start Times and Networks
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Standard start times were what NASCAR fans wanted, but did it really work out for the sport?
With the 1:00 standard start time for Eastern time zone races, many of the Chase races went head to head against the 1:00 start of the NFL double headers.
By moving the start back, fans leaving the 1:00 games could come to the race since in the East the first half of the doubleheaders end at 4:00.
For much of the NFL season, FOX and CBS take turns with doubleheaders, so there would be more room on the sports landscape at 4:00.
Secondly, move the Chase back to ABC.
It's still the same talented guys calling the races, but ABC reaches more televisions than ESPN. A lot of folks watching the race on their garage TV still don't have a cable strung there, so it makes NASCAR accessible to more fans during the race.