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. Jeff Gordon 3 top-10 finishes from tying Mark Martin for second on all-time list

    Oct 1, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT

    (AP Photo/John Raoux) AP

    Jeff Gordon is now just three top-10 finishes away from tying Mark Martin for second most top-10s in a career. And in an ironic twist, Gordon is still seeking his first pole at this Sunday’s race venue, Kansas Motor Speedway.

  2. Honda releases first image of F1 2015 engine, no driver announcement due at Suzuka

    Oct 1, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT

    © Honda © Honda

    More details revealed ahead of Honda’s return to F1 in 2015 with McLaren.

  3. Veteran crew chief Mike Ford named to run NNS team effort for John Wes Townley

    Oct 1, 2014, 10:16 AM EDT

    (Jason Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Veteran NASCAR crew chief Mike Ford has joined Athenian Motorsports, the Nationwide Series team announced Wednesday.

  4. Simona de Silvestro’s F1 hopes at risk due to financial problems

    Oct 1, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT

    Simona de Silvestro AP

    Sauber confirms that her testing programme has been scrapped due to “financial reasons”.

  5. NASCAR AMERICA: Dale Earnhardt Jr. aims for better results in Chase (VIDEO)

    Sep 30, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    Coca-Cola 600 - Practice Getty Images

    “Driver 88″ discusses his performance issues in the Challenger Round with NASCAR AMERICA’s Rick Allen.

  6. NASCAR AMERICA: The strategy of the Contender Round (VIDEO)

    Sep 30, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT

    Federated Auto Parts 400 Getty Images

    How do you prepare for two races and then a free-for-all at Talladega? Rick Allen and Kyle Petty of NASCAR AMERICA discuss.

  7. NASCAR: Nationwide Series crewman suspended for violating substance abuse policy

    Sep 30, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT

    nationwideserieslogo

    Also: Crew chief in same series fined, put on probation for car weight issue from last weekend at Dover.

  8. F1: 3rd-place battle between Williams and Ferrari heads for Suzuka

    Sep 30, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

    Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen AP

    Williams’ gap on Ferrari for third in the Constructors’ Championship is down to nine points going into this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

  9. WATCH LIVE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks Contender Round on NASCAR AMERICA

    Sep 30, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT

    AAA 400 - Qualifying Getty Images

    Also coming up today: A closer look at the Contender Round tracks and who’s been successful at them; Joe Gibbs Racing focusing on continued momentum at Kansas; more radio goodness with the Dover Chase edition of “Scan All 43.”

  10. IndyCar Driver Review: Mikhail Aleshin

    Sep 30, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT

    AleshinSunIMS Getty Images

    Sixteenth in the 2014 IndyCar season was rookie Mikhail Aleshin, ever the fighter.

  11. Formula E CEO Agag hopeful for several motor/battery manufacturers in 2015-16

    Sep 30, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT

    Photo courtesy FIA Formula E Photo courtesy FIA Formula E

    Agag hopes for “three or four different makers of motors and batteries” during F-E’s second season.

  12. IndyCar Driver Review: Justin Wilson

    Sep 30, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT

    JWilFinal2014 Getty Images

    P15 caps a difficult IndyCar season for Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne Racing.

  13. NASCAR: Corey Lajoie set for four-race run in No. 98 Nationwide Series car

    Sep 30, 2014, 2:47 PM EDT

    Sylvania 300 - Qualifying Getty Images

    The son of two-time Nationwide Series champion Randy Lajoie will race the upcoming NNS events at Kansas, Charlotte, Texas, and Homestead.

  14. IndyCar Driver Review: Charlie Kimball

    Sep 30, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT

    Shell Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston - Day 3 Getty Images

    Charlie Kimball fights through an OK, but often challenging, 2014 season en route to P14 into the IndyCar standings.

  15. NASCAR: Roster set for October’s Drive for Diversity combine

    Sep 30, 2014, 1:55 PM EDT

    nascar logo 2014 Getty Images

    20 multicultural and female drivers from across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and South America will seek to earn a spot in the D4D’s Class of 2015.

  16. IndyCar: James Hinchcliffe presides over Charlie Kimball’s wedding

    Sep 30, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT

    Hinchcliffe Getty Images

    “The Mayor” has now apparently become The Minister.

  17. IndyCar: Penske drivers off to Verizon HQ; CFH ones to Mid-Ohio today

    Sep 30, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    MAVTV 500 Getty Images

    A busy day for members of two IndyCar teams, as Penske and CFH drivers head to New Jersey and Mid-Ohio, respectively.

  18. It’s been two years since Kobayashi’s Suzuka podium with Sauber (VIDEO)

    Sep 30, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Brazil - Previews Getty Images

    Two years ago, Kamui Kobayashi stood on an F1 podium in his home country, with Sauber. It seems so long ago, now.

  19. Stats of note heading into Suzuka

    Sep 30, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    Sebastian Vettel AP

    Some of the stats of note as we head into the Japanese Grand Prix.

Video from NASCAR America

Gordon: Win was great team statement
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. J. Gordon (1707)
  2. K. Harvick (1432)
  3. K. Busch (1186)
  4. J. Coulter (1065)
  5. R. Blaney (1051)