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.