Backdoor To the NASCAR Chase? Giving Winner Automatic Bid Not Champion Material

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IAugust 24, 2010

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 12:  (Back row from L-R) Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot Chevrolet, Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Aflac Ford, Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 3M Ford, Mark Martin, driver of the #5 Kellogg's Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Dupont Chevrolet, (Front row L-R) Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 U.S. Army Chevrolet, Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Dodge, Kurt Busch, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Toyota, and Brian Vickers, driver of the #83 Red Bull Toyota, pose with the Sprint Cup trophy following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 12, 2009 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

With the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship growing closer the talk about what the Chase should look like is again front and center.

NASCAR officials have already announced one change for the 2011 edition: Chicagoland Speedway will be the host of the first race of the 10-race playoff. But just one change has not settled the demand from fans and drivers calling for a consistent change in tracks every season.

Even with four-time champion Jeff Gordon saying he would be in favor of a Chase change up, NASCAR is sticking by their guns. This is how things are going to be and attention turns to the final two races before 12 drivers will receive a clean slate as they race toward the most wanted trophy in the sport.

Not every driver has been locked into his Chase position, but it’s highly unlikely much will change before New Hampshire on September 19. Glancing through the current 12 drivers that consist of the Chase a new, yet old, debate has reignited.

Should drivers that win races get an automatic entry into the Chase?

Jamie McMurray has won two of the biggest races that NASCAR has to offer, the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. Even with those impressive victories on his resume, McMurray is set to miss the Chase, currently 100 points behind the 12th position.

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With McMurray currently locked out, many have again stated that they would be in favor of drivers that win races being put in the Chase. Discussed almost every year since the Chase began, now with multiple drivers having won races but not going to make the Chase (McMurray, Ryan Newman, David Reutimann and Juan Pablo Montoya), a red flag has been thrown.

A hypothetical: your driver didn’t win a race in the first 26 events but was consistent enough to stay in the top 12 in points to qualify his team for the Chase.

NASCAR then stands up and announces that they only reward winners and therefore your driver will be removed from his top 12-point position and put in the 13th position, outside the Chase, so another driver can be moved up.

Sucks to think about right?

While it’s a hypothetical, under the current fan based suggestions, it could happen. A driver who had worked hard for 26 races, not only finishing majority of the events, but finishing in the top five or top 10 on a consistent basis is going to be punished.

In the 2010 Chase currently six drivers are in that hypothetical situation: Jeff Gordon (second in points), Carl Edwards (fourth in points), Tony Stewart (sixth in points), Jeff Burton (seventh in points), Matt Kenseth (eighth in points) and Clint Bowyer (12th in points).

Now you need to turn to them and tell them “almost” winning a race doesn’t count.

Another driver, who didn’t finish as many races, didn’t compile as many top fives or top 10s, is going to get a backdoor entry. Certainly winning a race should be held to a high standard in the sport, a driver and his team has accomplished a great feat, but there needs to be more than just winning when crowing the season’s champion.

In 2004 when the Chase debuted many wanted no part of it. This was not the way to give out the biggest trophy of the year, the belief being that any driver could be hot for 10 weeks when they should have been for an entire season and on every type of racetrack.

For those who hate the Chase, the best way to counteract it wouldn’t be by changing the rules on how to qualify for it. If a driver is good enough to win a championship, they won’t need to rely on winning to get them into the Chase.

That driver will have no problem putting together 26 consistent races to make it on their own.

NASCAR would be putting themselves in a situation where they were the ones deciding one over the other who deserved to be in the Chase. Would that be the drivers who put together a solid 26 races and proved they could compete on a weekly basis? Or the drivers that when they hit, they hit victory lane, but when they missed, they missed by a long shot?

Complaints about NASCAR being too controlling and “ruining” the sport are ever growing. Giving them the power to set the Chase field by hand instead of racing would be fueling the fire.

Never wanting to rest and settle is a good thing for the sport. Every year a rule change here or a track change there is needed. When something works, however, you don’t fix it.

The Chase isn’t as battered as many seem to think, just because Jimmie Johnson and his team won four straight titles.

The reason that Johnson did so will be repeated again: consistency, consistency, and consistency. The key to winning a championship has always been, and should remain the best drivers that are up front on a weekly basis.

The best drivers in the sport will race for 26 weeks and the ones who have the complete packages, wins and consistency, should be the ones racing for the championship. Not everyone qualified to do that and it’s the reason only 12 drivers make the field to begin with. 


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