NASCAR Changes the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But Did They?

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.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Follow him on Twitter @brian_jr1 during the race and throughout the week for more NASCAR news and commentary, or on Facebook, Pinterest, and Google.

King of NASCAR for a Day

With all the talk about making changes to the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup it brought up the thought about what I would do if I was the King of NASCAR for a Day.

The first thing I would do is get rid of a bunch of 500 mile races on 1.5 mile speedways. Racing on 1.5 mile speedways is probably the least exciting of NASCAR racing. We do not really need 100 more miles of racing on these tracks.

Nationwide and Truck series races are more exciting on these speedway than Sprint Cup Series races. The main reason is these races are typically about 300 miles. There is no time to ride around and work on the car or truck.

I proclaim both races at Texas, Charlotte and Atlanta in the fall to be 400 mile races. I will keep the Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500 and the wide open racing at Talladega. One must respect the iconic historic racing of those races.

The next proclamation would be to have a couple more short track races in the season. Short track racing is more often than not shorter in length and more exciting than racing at those larger tracks. These races keep the young people who grew up on the internet and have a short attention span engaged. They are the key to attracting and keeping young race fans.

We need to have a Sprint Cup race at Iowa Speedway. Going back to the historic Milwaukee Mile would also be good. Look at the racing at Phoenix. Like all good leaders I will let my minions figure out which tracks would lose race dates to fit these in.

NASCAR needs to make the All Star Race even more special. What better place to have an All Star Race than at an All Star Track. One that is rich with history. One that is tough and fitting of a driver that has attained All Star status.

I proclaim that NASCAR will hold an All Star Rock and Roll weekend at “The Rock”. What a better way to showcase All Stars in all three series than to have a knock down drag out race at Rockingham Speedway. It fits in with tradition is close to where the drivers and teams live and more importantly is a short track. The racing has always been good at “The Rock”

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Follow him on Twitter @brian_jr1 during the race and throughout the week for more NASCAR news and commentary, or on Facebook, Pinterest, and Google.

NASCAR Sprint Cup – Win You’re In, Don’t Race until the Chase?

On Friday the Charlotte Observer reported that NASCAR is considering changes to the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Sweeping changes that would make winning a race more important than it already is. They have been floating this idea around those who have influence on the sport.

The proposal floating around is they would have the first 16 drivers who have won a race make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. If for some reason 16 different drivers don’t win a race, then those highest in points who have not won a race will be in. There would also be eliminations during the Chase.

I waited until Sunday to write about this simply because I can’t get excited for it or against it and here is why.

First of all, since they added the two Wild Card spots—reserved for winners who are not already in the top ten—we already have a “Win” component to the Chase.

Just looking at last season, one can see the opportunities that this would bring. David Ragan and Brian Vickers would have made the Chase. There would have been 13 winners making the Chase. Tony Stewart would have also made the Chase, but he was injured, leaving four spots for those higher in points. Essentially the Chase for the Sprint Cup would include the same drivers except Ragan and Vickers.

There would have been just about no reason for Michael Waltrip Racing to manipulate the points in the last regular season race as all their teams would have been in.

Some people have been saying that once you win and are in you don’t need to race until the Chase. This couldn’t be more inaccurate. Again looking just at last year those teams who entered the Chase at the bottom didn’t suddenly get better. They essentially raced more of the same. Only Tony Stewart who won the Chase in 2011 got incredibly better once the Chase was underway.

What could this change actually do? Imagine this. You are deep in a race and you are five points from twelfth place. You are in the front of the field, one lap to the good on fuel to the end of the race. The driver you are racing for twelfth place is at the end of the lead lap but good on fuel. Ordinarily you just can’t give up that many points so you save fuel finishing five spots ahead of the twelfth place driver. In this new format you had already won a race. You are in. There is no need to care about points so you go for it and win. That is what this proposed change is all about.

Think about the past when Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500. He would have put the famed #21 Wood Brothers Ford into the Chase. He probably wouldn’t have won the Chase but perhaps this new opportunity would help them get funding to run a whole season.

It also is an opportunity for a driver who won to make the Chase even though he or she had to sit out a race or two due to injury.

To use the worn out phrase “The Devil is in the Details” I can see where this potential change to the Chase essentially doesn’t change the Chase itself but does change the racing in the regular season on the way to the Chase.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Follow him on Twitter @brian_jr1 during the race and throughout the week for more NASCAR news and commentary, or on Facebook, Pinterest, and Google.

2013 NASCAR Stories Continuing into 2014 – SHR

To say that the last two years the NASCAR Sprint Cup team of Stewart Haas Racing has been in transition is an understatement. At the end of 2011 Tony Stewart won the Sprint Cup but prior to that he already parted ways with his crew chief. At the end of 2012, it came out that Kevin Harvick would leave Richard Childress Racing for Stewart Haas Racing (SHR) in 2014.

There is no doubt that SHR is undergoing changes for the 2014 season. Tony Stewart was hurt last year in a Sprint Car race. It is expected that he will return for the Daytona 500 but he will not test with the team prior to then. When he does get back he will have yet another new crew chief, Chad Johnston. This one SHR team will be starting over.

Kevin Harvick will bring his sponsor Budweiser over to SHR and will take over for the No. 39 team of Ryan Newman renumbered to 4. In reality it will be a mostly new team.

Kurt Busch was hired by Gene Haas to drive a fourth car. He will drive the No. 41 Haas CNC Chevrolet. He will essentially have a brand new team.

Danica Patrick, who had a lackluster first year in Sprint Cup, is the only driver at Stewart Haas Racing who will essentially have the same team. By all rights she has the most opportunity to capitalize on that stability.  In reality, she has a long way to go.

Of the four drivers at SHR, Kevin Harvick will probably be the best right out of the gate. He has had two years to think about the change, has a stable sponsor and probably the confidence to get it done.

Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick still have something to prove. This will make it difficult right away to make things happen. It is still questionable if Tony Stewart will be 100% come Daytona. Throw in the fact that Stewart doesn’t normally ramp it up until summer, it could be one tough spring for his team.

The story of 2013 for SHR was the coming changes to the drivers and teams and this will continue well into the next season.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Follow him on Twitter @brian_jr1 during the race and throughout the week for more NASCAR news and commentary, or on Facebook, Pinterest, and Google.

2013 NASCAR Stories Continuing into 2014 – Cars

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season was the first season with the new cars.  NASCAR worked closely with the car manufacturers in order to make the cars look like cars that one could buy. This is supposed to connect with the fans better. It is also a throwback to the times when NASCAR actually raced cars that were on the show room floor.  Those days are gone due to safety but that doesn’t mean the cars can’t represent those same cars that can be purchased by the fans.

The new cars looked great. The 2013 Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion, and Toyota Camry look good. The fans have connected to the new cars and have welcomed them. They are very happy to get rid of the nondescript Car of Tomorrow. The only question was how they would race on the track.

Right off the bat the cars worked great at Daytona. There did not appear to be an advantage over any manufacturer. Two car tandem racing was all but gone and pack racing was back. Racing at the intermediate tracks (1.5 and 2 mile) was a different story.

NASCAR and Goodyear worked hard providing additional testing and tires in order to increase competitive racing at the 1.5 mile tracks. The only mistake NASCAR made is early in the season finning Denny Hamlin for criticizing the new cars. It was a mistake because Hamlin’s comments were not really that critical and more factual. That fine put the spotlight on the racing at 1.5 mile speedways for the rest of the season.

In the end NASCAR, Goodyear and the team’s efforts started paying off and there was much better racing on those tracks. NASCAR continued this effort with a rare if not unprecedented test session at Charlotte Motor Speedway before Christmas to improve racing further.

Make no mistake about it. NASCAR, Goodyear, and the Manufactures intend to continue improving these cars and the racing. This story will continue throughout 2014.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Follow him on Twitter @brian_jr1 during the race and throughout the week for more NASCAR news and commentary, or on Facebook, Pinterest, and Google.