NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France has said multiple times he wants a “Game Seven” type feel to deciding NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series championship.
And he created exactly that with NASCAR’s new radically changed Chase for the Championship announced Thursday.
The new format places an emphasis on winning in the regular season, creates a playoff-type bracketed elimination system for the Chase for the Championship and creates a one-race winner-take-all format at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The new format guarantees France that “Game Seven” moment he so desperately wanted, albeit by seemingly manufacturing it. But what’s wrong with manufacturing it when everybody else is doing it to stay at the front of the entertainment game?
People will complain that the one-race winner take all format takes away from all the efforts put into being successful for the regular season. That was exactly the focus of the argument Sprint Cup Series star Carl Edwards made on Wednesday in arguing against the new system, saying it would be unfair to a driver who had tremendous success in the regular season to lose the championship in the final event or even not qualify to be in the running for the title in the final race.
Well that right there folks describes a little something called the National Football League, which seems to have a pretty decent grip on understanding what fans want or don’t want to see when it comes to entertainment value.
The focus this week of the sports world, the entertainment world, – hey the United States in general – is on a little game in East Rutherford, N.J. called the Super Bowl. And that massive focus is no different than any other year. The eyes of the world are focused on a one-game, winner-take-all championship.
Remember the 2007 New England Patriots. Sixteen wins in the regular season, two more in the playoffs and then 18-0 meant absolutely nothing when they lost in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. One game changed everything, and the reality is, it will forever be one of the most talked about NFL seasons in history.
So what’s wrong with having that same scenario in NASCAR? Sure, would it stink for a driver to win 10 regular season races and then not win the championship, or even not qualify for the final race of the championship? Yes it would, but that’s the reality of sports and competition across the spectrum today. The Miami Heat aren’t awarded the NBA championship because they went on 10-game winning streak in November. An undefeated season in the ACC doesn’t mean the NCAA is going to hand its men’s basketball championship to Duke.
NASCAR created the Chase for the Championship to put an emphasis on winning and put championship focus squarely on the final 10 races of the season. This format takes what was right about the chase and makes it even better and more in line with competitive formats that seem to be working best in other realms of sport.
One of the problems in NASCAR has always been that you can’t shake the carrot of “consistency wins championships” – and millions of dollars and permanent glory as a champion at the highest level of the sport – and then expect drivers to do just about anything to win races, which at its core is what will make racing more exciting.
At the Sprint Cup level is the racing truly less exciting today than say 25 years ago or is that just a myth? Sure, there’s less banging and crashing because they’re aren’t driving tanks anymore, but is that truly less exciting? Want to use a championship deciding system spread across 36 events? Well, until you have a system where the winner gets 25 points and second place on back gets zero points you’re never going to have a true championship battle that includes exciting racing for wins in a 36-race championship format.
And the argument that NASCAR saw its greatest growth, in the 1990’s, under the old 36-event run for the championship system, is stale. The sport didn’t see tremendous growth because of how guys were winning championships or the points format. The sport saw tremendous growth because of a perfect storm that included great marketing, a bulk of great personalities in the sport at once, but most importantly, what was then a relatively cheap entertainment option.
Those that run NASCAR can sit idly by and watch all that makes other sporting entertainment options so viable or they can try to make them part of their game too. The reality is, history went out the window a decade ago when NASCAR implemented the Chase for the Championship so at this point, they may as well just go all in.
Go big or go home is what they kids like to say these days. NASCAR is going big.