SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is in the midst of some major modifications, and that’s an understatement. The Chase was a controversial concept when it was first conjured up and after ten years, the powers that be have opted to revamp the entire system once again.
Is this new Chase format an atrocity that will doom the sport or a genius idea that will rocket NASCAR back to the top and give way to a new renaissance period for the pinnacle of stock car racing?
Neither actually. In my eyes, NASCAR got it half right here. I am excited for most of the alterations to the playoff system but there are two parts of it that I feel were superfluous and could consequently damage the integrity of the Sprint Cup championship.
During each round of the Chase, if a driver wins a race, he or she earns a free pass into the next round. This means that drivers won’t have to string together 10 near-infallible performances anymore. They can have a 40th here and 30th there, as long as they snag a couple victories along the way. The flaw in this is that drivers who win during the first three rounds will simply utilize the remaining races to experiment and test setups (or worse, help teammates who have yet to advance).
When it comes to his format, this is what’s really been bothering me though — after the penultimate event, the top four in the standings will have their points reset to 5,000, in order to guarantee an enthralling and captivating end to the year. The incontrovertible fact is that it will increase the intensity exponentially and certainly won’t lack any drama…but I can’t ignore that they are also purposely manipulating the points in order to maximize the chances of a Game-7 moment, which isn’t right.
Instead of putting all the effort into creating a Game 7-like scenario, NASCAR should focus on creating a product capable of producing those kind of situations on its own. I want four drivers to go into the finale dead-locked as much as anyone else, but I’d much rather see it happen naturally.
In NASCAR, everything and anything can go wrong in a single race and it’s not right to have a blown tire or engine failure be the lone decider in who is crowned champion. They’ve always contributed to the outcome, yes, but under this format, they become the main factor. We are sacrificing the credence of the sport’s championship in order to ensure a jaw-dropping finale and I don’t entirely agree with that.
The goal of this system is to attract more casual fans but that mindset could potentially backfire on NASCAR. Sure, they will pull in more eyeballs with this format — for Homestead. I am a casual football fan and I don’t bother to watch any playoff game but one, and that’s the Super Bowl. Some of the casual fans that watch Homestead may end up getting hooked on the sport but most won’t. They’ll just ignore every race but the very last one.
An adverse effect of this pursuit to gain new fans is that the sport is alienating a lot of the traditionalist and they are the ones that buy race tickets and merchandise. The question is, how do you attract new fans without alienating some of the aforementioned, traditionalists? Well, you can’t. You have to hope that the gain outweighs the loss and I don’t think this new Chase format is quite the panacea NASCAR has been searching for.
Don’t make the erroneous mistake of thinking that constant change is a bad thing though. I don’t feel that altering the playoff system compromises the integrity of the sport, it’s what you change that hurts the integrity.
NASCAR is in an identity crisis at the moment but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is panicking, as some would suggest. They are in a fairly comfortable position actually and are simply trying to figure out how to expand its already impressive fan base.