NASCAR Making All The Right Moves With Radical Chase For The Championship Changes

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.

Brian France (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Brian France (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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.

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  1. I’ve said all along since 2006, when johnson won his first title, the only way to help prevent the 48 from winning another championship is to reset the points for the last race. I never actually thought they would seriously consider doing that. Very interesting read though. Much different opinion than what some of the other writers are saying.

  2. Although this is completely different from any format ever used in NASCAR history, lets give it a try. The current chase format leaves much to be desired and subjected us to the controversy of last year. Hopefully it puts some real excitement into what has become boring and predictable.

  3. The difference between auto racing and the other sports is that in the other sports, they play to get into the post-season. If they don’t get in then their season is over; and those teams that are not in the post season can’t affect those teams that are in the post season. The other sports are also a 1-on-1, heads up match. Individual games only involve two teams, not 43 (of which only 16 are in the “post season”) so it’s the better of the two teams that advance. This is stupid and it’s not going to attract more people. If the chase is so great, why is it only in place in the Cup series? Why not Nationwide or the Trucks? (or mods, or K&N)

    Nascar has jumped the shark. Won’t have to worry about when the races are on because I won’t be watching anymore.

    I guess that they needed to do whatever they could so that they could get JR and Danica into the chase.

  4. I hated the chase and I’ll probably hate this to. We will just have to see. But I’m sure Indy Car will have a better year. It was my fav series to watch in 2013. XD

  5. Nascar puts more emphasis on the championship than most fans. This new format would be more interesting if there were actually more than 16 teams capable of winning a race. This just gets all the Gibbs, Hendrick, Roush, Childress, Stewart and MWR teams into the show. The elimination rounds is bunk too. There were really only 3 contenders left last year after about five chase races. I can’t wait until Homestead when a hotdog wrapper on the grill forces someone to pit and lose the championship. This format leaves too much to luck. The “regular ” season needs to mean more. Under this format, you can cruise after you have notched a win and still make the show.

  6. Sharpie Fan says

    Let the wrecking begin!

  7. Just a fan, Man. says

    Imagine one day seeing an article that reads “Nascar making all the right moves with the Modified Tour”…..wouldn’t that be cool……..Imagine if Nascar knew there was a Mod Tour.

  8. darealgoodfella says

    And how are rules infractions going to be handled? Fines are useless, just additional cost to advance. An infraction with this new system should mean the car is eliminated from contention, no chance of a championship. If a car can still proceed down the elimination ladder after an infraction, then the new system is useless. NASCAR needs to fabricate a pair so it can mete out consequences that are meaningful against rules violations. Only then will this new system have a chance at succeeding.

    Looks like a win could mean something again. As it was, a race was nothing more than a tiny step towards the championship. Fans want to see racing at the race, not pacing for points.

  9. Well here are some issues/aspects I see:

    1) Win a race early and you can use the rest of the regular season races as test sessions.

    2) If you thought attempts to manipulate the end of the Richmond race last year was bad?! Wait until the Chase Grid starts. Anyone who thinks the penalties NASCAR hit MWR with last year with will deter others from manipulating results in the future is fooling themselves. Reality is teams will now use more covert communication tactics to signal drivers on what to do so the team is still in the hunt the next race. NASCAR can listen to the radios all they want, but folks will find a way to beat / cheat the system – been a NASCAR trademark/staple since the beginning.

    3) Comparing the NASCAR Chase to the NFL Playoffs is flawed logic. it’s more accurate to compare the Chase to the FedEx Cup in Golf or the NHRA Countdown. And neither of those have resulted in any measurable TV Ratings increase.

    4) The Patriots-Giants SB comparison is ridiculous. The only reason that SB gets the talk it does is because the Patriots were a game away from going undefeated for the season. If the Patriots were 16-2 going into that game, and lost ,it would not have received anywhere near the discussion in sports.

    Now, when a driver gets through a season 35-0 heading into Homestead, and loses that race?! THEN we can use that 2007 Patriots-Giants SB comparison.

    Bottom line is NASCAR is desperate. Desperate to turnaround a decline in TV Ratings, desperate to revise a product that is not attracting the sponsor nor TV revenue dollars it once did.

    Is NASCAR making all the right moves? Of late, they have not, but we’ll see on this go-around, but i’m skeptical.

  10. Dave Borawski says

    maybe a comparison to the olympics would be better.

  11. I just finished watching an interesting video clip via Humphy Wheeler’s YouTube channel and he made a very interesting point…

    With the emphasis on winning races again, this could possibly be the end of “Richie Rich” buying a ride… No more can you ride around, rack up top 15s and go “today was a good points day.” Gotta win to get in… So hopefully team owners begin looking at talent n not pocketbooks

  12. darealgoodfella says

    Well, this is an improvement in that the last race of the season will have meaning, and it will be a race or demolition derby. What do you think teams tactics will be? It would be better if more cars were racing for the championship in the last race, maybe 8. Those four cars running for the championship are going to be used as ping-pong balls by the other teams.

    Think of this… let’s say there is no more championship as we know it, and all what was point fund money is now distributed throughout the season at each race. The winner gets the lion’s share at each race. Then for a “championship”, the car that has the most wins, and ran every event (no start-parks), gets a pot of money.

    And then there is this… the posted award fund for a race is awarded for leading at interim points in the race. Say there is a 400 lap race. The cars that are leading the race at laps 100, 200 and 300 get a big award ($). Then the winner of the event gets big bucks.

  13. i’d say i will stop watching… but I stopped years ago when this “chase” garbage started. If NASCAR ran the NFL, they would have reset the score to zero-zero at the beginning of the 4th quarter to give the Broncos a chance. Real excitement doesn’t need to be manufactured artificially.

  14. Andy Boright says

    When is Brian France going to realize he is not the commissioner of the NFL, MLB, the NHL, or the NBA?

    I think it’s a riot that NASCAR’s latest great idea to emphize winning actually would have resulted in a non-winner taking the 2013 title had this system been in place this past season.

    So much for “winning”.

    Championships have always been a sub-plot in racing, and as much as Brian France tries to ignore and trample over racing’s roots, he is never going to change the fact.

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