On January 30th 2014, prior to the start of this season, NASCAR introduced the new format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. It is one of the biggest changes to the Chase since NASCAR implemented the Chase in 2004. It was billed as a format that put the emphasis on winning races over consistency- “Points Racing”.
“We have arrived at a format that makes every race matter even more, diminishes points racing, puts a premium on winning races and concludes with a best-of-the-best, first-to-the-finish line showdown race – all of which is exactly what fans want,” said Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO.
The 2014 Race to the Chase is over, the Contenders for the Chase for the Sprint Cup are known; but how did it work out? Was winning really enhanced? Did we have more race winners than we typically do in the 26 weeks leading up to the Chase?
When it comes to having more winners and/or a premium on winning it doesn’t really look like it changed much, if at all. During the first 26 weeks there were 13 different winners, seven of which were multiple winners. The average for the last eleven years was 12.55 different winners and 6.09 multiple winners. See the chart below:
Was there a premium on winning? This can be looked at two different ways. The first, were there any drivers that would have made the Chase via points that missed the Chase because they didn’t win. The answer is no. The three drivers who made the Chase via points; Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle finished the regular season 6th, 8th and 10th in the standings. They would have been in the Chase anyway.
The other way to look at the winning premium is who made the Chase via winning that would not have otherwise made the Chase. Kasey Kahne (13th in points) and Kyle Busch (17th in points) would have made the Chase via the Wild Card. Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger would not have made the Chase but they each won one race. They essentially took up the four additional spots provided in the Chase via this new format.
When I started the research for this report card I really thought I would find something different. Throughout the season there were times when winning seemed important. Who can argue that Kasey Kahne and his team didn’t work hard at Atlanta in order to make the Chase? How about AJ Allmendinger at Watkins Glen?
In the end though one just needs to look at the top of the points standings; all of the multiple winners are right there. They didn’t win and then ride around waiting for the Chase. They kept at it so that they can be in Championship form for the Chase. The top five in points—Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Jimmie Johnson—all have at least three wins and are poised to enter the Chase in a dominant way. These guys are real Championship Contenders.
Sure it’s conceivable that one of the others who got into the Chase might win the Championship, but watching those other drivers above there is no way each and every one will fail.
I originally thought at the beginning of the season that the Race to the Chase didn’t change by much. There was, though, a sense of excitement from a fan perspective that if my driver wins, they are in. That was unmistakable from the first race when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won until Atlanta when Kasey Kahne won.
I give the Race to the Chase a B+ but the year is not over. It’s about to get ramped up when the Chase for the Sprint Cup starts. Win and you move on to the next round with the final race deciding the Champion right there on the track. The driver who is in front wins the Championship. No points racing there.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup begins at Chicagoland Speedway, Sunday September 14th for the MyAfibStory.com 400. If you cannot get to Chicagoland it will be broadcast on ESPN starting at 2 PM ET.
Feature Photo Credit: 301215 Richmond International Raceway