NASCAR announced that they have changed the qualifications for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. They have also announced how the Chase and the Championship will be won. Looking at these changes they look radical and many fans don’t like them. The question is, are these changes really that radical? Have they really changed the nature of NASCAR racing as we know it?
NASCAR announced that the 15 drivers who have won a race who are the highest in points will make the Chase. The 16th place in the Chase is reserved for the point leader at the end of the first 26 races. If there are not 16 race winners then those highest in points will fill the field.
In the Chase itself there is a playoff format where after the first three Chase races (First Round) the top twelve will move on to the second round. After the next three Chase Races (Second Round) the top eight will move on to the third round. After the next three Chase Races (Third Round) the final four drivers make it to the last race of the season at Homestead Miami Speedway: a winner takes all event where the driver who finishes the highest of the four wins the Championship.
The whole premise of the changes is that NASCAR wants what the fans want, quite simply winning races wins the Championship. How can anyone disagree with that? I know I can’t.
Many fans are up in arms over this seemingly big change. Why change? Someone could win Daytona and ride along for 25 weeks before the Chase. The integrity of the sport is in play here. Well I tell you none of this is true.
First of all, there is a benefit that really doesn’t show up in the changes. Quite simply if a driver happens to be ill with a concussion or other health related issue, the door is open for them to still make the Chase even if they miss a race or two and have already won a race. This puts the driver’s health back into the drivers hands because there is still hope to make the Chase, all is not lost if you miss a race.
The second benefit that isn’t necessarily evident is that there is some hope to some of the smaller, less funded teams to make the Chase and get some coveted TV and media exposure. Everyone likes an underdog and now there is a chance to have one in the Chase.
What fans don’t like about this new Chase format is that, on paper, a team could get lucky, perhaps at Daytona or Talladega and win a race. That team could simply ride along the rest of the races, race hard in the Chase and seemingly steal the Championship.
Make no mistake about it, no driver will be able to ride around biding his time until the Chase. Each and every team will have to be on their game in order to make each and every round in the Chase and be in contention at Homestead.
There is only one team that improved their racing during the Chase to come from behind to win. That team was Tony Stewart who won five races in the Chase to win his third Championship. Even if one of those underdog teams does get lucky and makes the Chase, if they improve and win multiple races to win the Championship the new Chase will be a success. That is what NASCAR wants, I want, and the fans want.