Skip to content

NASCAR must make sure new 16-driver Chase sticks

Jan 30, 2014, 1:33 PM EDT

Federated Auto Parts 400 Getty Images

Change is a constant force in our lives that we cannot escape. But while change can be positive, it can also be negative – especially if they come one after the other.

Many citizens of NASCAR Nation argue that such has been the case regarding the sanctioning body’s willingness to continually tinker with its decade-old Chase format, which emerged in 2004 to redefine the way a champion is crowned in the top-tier Sprint Cup series.

The Chase has taken various forms since its original incarnation, which had the Top 10 drivers in the championship (and anyone else within 400 points of the leader) going into the 10-race post-season. But then came the tweaks – an expansion to 12 drivers in 2007 (with the 400-point bit dropped), followed by an overhauled points system and the addition of two “wild cards” in 2011.

Now, yet another change has arrived. As first reported by the Charlotte Observer earlier this month, the Chase has now officially expanded once more to a 16-driver field and will feature eliminations after every three races in the playoff to set up a four-driver, winner-take-all battle at Homestead-Miami Speedway for stock car racing’s biggest prize.

Depending on your viewpoint, NASCAR CEO Brian France is either to be commended on his persistence in creating a “Game 7”-style playoff environment like those of other sports, or vilified for craving it so much that he’s forgotten that NASCAR simply isn’t like any of the other sports.

We see France’s thought process and I would think that we all understand it.

The last thing he wants is to produce a boring product, especially with NBC Sports coming in to join Fox as the sport’s broadcasters in 2015. Then there’s the fact that the core NASCAR fan is getting up there in age – the sport itself may be at the start of a youth revolution (hello, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon; goodbye, Mark Martin and Bobby Labonte), but that’s not showing up in the grandstands or in the TV demos.

Naturally, France wants to change that with a show that cannot be ignored.

The sport’s purists can complain until they are blue in the face, but society demands to be entertained (and considering that we’ve fueled the rise of the likes of Jersey Shore, the Kardashians and Justin Bieber, we don’t care how). If France believes this new format can entertain more people and help NASCAR enjoy another mainstream run like the one it had in the early to mid-2000s, then more power to him.

But at the same time, he and his colleagues need to put the hammers away in the toolbox and let the changes stick. This format needs to be in place for more than just a few years, because while change can be good, there are advantages when it comes to long-lasting continuity.

Too many changes can make the sport look desperate, as if it’s looking for the magic bullet that instantly brings back the days when NASCAR was part of the “Big Four” of American sports and drivers like Jeff Gordon were hosting Saturday Night Live.

You’d hope NASCAR would know there is no such thing as a magic bullet after seeing the much-hyped Danica Patrick struggle in her rookie Cup season last year or seeing the IndyCar Series continue to suffer with a miniscule national presence after American open-wheel racing united again in 2008.

Furthermore, too many changes agitate the loyal fans that have stuck around for decades and have remained loyal as their sport has evolved into a national phenomenon. There’s the balancing act of this change: Gaining as many new fans as possible without finally driving that longtime base away for good.

NASCAR shouldn’t be attacked for wanting to be more relevant. But it needs to understand that this new format has to be given time to make an impact and that it must resist the impulse to tweak it again in the near-future.

Latest Posts
  1. No concerns for Mattiacci about Raikkonen and Alonso

    Aug 30, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    Spain F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    Rumors about Ferrari’s line-up unfounded; Mattiacci plans to keep both Kimi and Fernando on for 2015.

  2. Vettel and Ricciardo ready for challenge of Monza

    Aug 30, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    Hungary F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    The high-speed circuit plays host to the Italian Grand Prix next weekend.

  3. Kimball: “I had nowhere to go” after Aleshin accident

    Aug 30, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT

    CharliePostCrash Getty Images

    Charlie Kimball on last night’s accident with Mikhail Aleshin.

  4. After Spa’s missed opportunity, Williams must hit back at Monza

    Aug 30, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso AP

    The fight with Ferrari is set to rage on until the end of the season.

  5. Lotus finding the silver linings ahead of the F1 run-in

    Aug 30, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Monaco - Practice Getty Images

    Deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi is going into the Italian Grand Prix weekend with an open mind.

  6. Maldonado unconcerned by changes to Parabolica at Monza

    Aug 30, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT

    Parabolica Getty Images

    Lotus driver doesn’t think the removal of the gravel track at the corner will change a great deal.

  7. Aleshin conscious following heavy accident in MAVTV 500 final practice (UPDATED, VIDEO)

    Aug 29, 2014, 11:45 PM EDT

    AleshinSunIMS Getty Images

    Severe looking three-car accident affects Mikhail Aleshin and two others.

  8. Kevin Harvick wins Atlanta Sprint Cup pole; Stewart qualifies 12th

    Aug 29, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Harvick earns his sixth Sprint Cup pole of 2014 with the help of some advice from returning boss and teammate Tony Stewart.

  9. Castroneves secures crucial MAVTV 500 pole; Power starts P21 for IndyCar finale (VIDEO)

    Aug 29, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    MAVTV 500 Ð Day 1 Getty Images

    Helio Castroneves on pole; Will Power struggles to P21 for Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying.

  10. NASCAR: Chris Buescher, Matt Kenseth lead Nationwide practices at Atlanta

    Aug 29, 2014, 7:29 PM EDT

    Great Clips 300 - Practice Getty Images

    The Nationwide Series rookie and Sprint Cup regular top today’s two practice sessions ahead of tomorrow night’s Great Clips 300 benefiting Feed The Children.

  11. Jeff Gordon: Last 3 races weren’t the same without Tony Stewart

    Aug 29, 2014, 7:06 PM EDT

    (Photo: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR Getty Images

    HAMPTON, Ga. — According to Jeff Gordon, the last three Sprint Cup races just weren’t quite the same without Tony Stewart. Gordon is glad Stewart is back.

  12. NASCAR AMERICA: Drivers discuss Stewart’s return (VIDEO)

    Aug 29, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT

    Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick AP

    Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, and Brian Vickers share their thoughts on Tony Stewart getting back behind the wheel in Atlanta.

  13. IndyCar has 500 miles to glory, through speed, dirt, tire fall off and unpredictability

    Aug 29, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT

    MAVTV 500 Getty Images

    The 500-mile shootout may be late Saturday night in Fontana, but still promises a bevy of story lines for the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale.

  14. NASCAR AMERICA: Mike Helton explains decision to make Stewart eligible for Chase (VIDEO)

    Aug 29, 2014, 6:25 PM EDT

    Pocono 400 - Practice Getty Images

    NBCSN contributor Nate Ryan also reports on the atmosphere around Tony Stewart’s return at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

  15. NASCAR AMERICA: Tony Stewart’s “healing process” (VIDEO)

    Aug 29, 2014, 6:02 PM EDT

    Tony Stewart AP

    “…[Stewart] being in the race car right now is about him getting through what has been a very emotional two weeks, and what his next step is in coping with this.” – Stewart Haas Racing’s Brett Frood

  16. Vickers: Last 2 races will be “a battle” for drivers not locked in Chase

    Aug 29, 2014, 5:41 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Brian Vickers and other winless drivers are facing big-time pressure to get a victory in the final races of the regular season.

  17. PWC: New Porsche GT-Cup class introduced for 2015

    Aug 29, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

    Photo: Pirelli World Challenge Photo: Pirelli World Challenge

    Porsche GT-Cup class class to enter into Pirelli World Challenge in 2015.

  18. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET

    Aug 29, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    NASCAR America

    Coming up today: More on the return of Tony Stewart at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

  19. Houston axed from 2015 IndyCar calendar; CTMP likely per report

    Aug 29, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT

    Shell Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston Getty Images

    Houston gone and momentum grows for Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, if a date can be found, for IndyCar.

  20. NASCAR: Tony Stewart 10th in first Cup practice at Atlanta; Edwards fastest

    Aug 29, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Following an emotional press conference this morning, the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion got back to work.

Video from NASCAR America

Inside Tony Stewart's return to racing
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. J. Gordon (2230)
  2. K. Harvick (1864)
  3. K. Busch (1786)
  4. J. Logano (1525)
  5. T. Stewart (1376)