Thursday, January 30, 2014

Brian France's Last Stand

The newly announced Chase-format confirmed two things: NASCAR is desperate and Brian France is down to last bullet.

With this being the fourth different iteration in eleven years, Brian France has nowhere else to turn after announcing the sixteen driver, win and you are in, three rounds of elimination with a "winner1"-take-all finale at Homestead. This is the most radical of the Chase formats because it is the most unusual format seen in the major motorsport world. A win in the first twenty-six races gets you in the Chase2

Where does Brian France turn when (not if) this doesn't work out. In the first ten years of the Chase the championship always came down to the final race and that wasn't good enough for him. NASCAR no longer wants to be a motorsports series. It is infatuated with being one of the big four team sports leagues in the United States and more specifically the National Football League. It is look for one finale to crown it's champion. The previous thirty-five races have no bearing on the champion. Whoever finish better out of the final four drivers at Homestead, on that one given day will be your champion.

France thinking each of the first twenty-six races will feature drivers going for it more and racing harder because every race will now be worth of a Chase spot is ludicrous. I echo Kyle Busch's sentiment when he said, "how?" I understand every race has a Chase spot on the line but after eight or nine different drivers win, why would say Jimmie Johnson challenge say Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. for a win if Johnson already has three wins and Stenhouse is going for his first?

NASCAR incentivized winning once out of twenty-six. As long as you win one of the first twenty-six, remain in the top thirty in points, qualify for every race and no more than sixteen drivers win a race and the points leader at the end of twenty-six races doesn't go winless, you are set. You don't need to win every weekend, you just need one and maybe a second to be safe.

And in case you are wondering, since NASCAR's schedule expanded to thirty-six races in 2001, only once has sixteen drivers won in the first twenty-six and that was 2003 when sixteen drivers won but Greg Biffle wouldn't have qualified after failing to make the Las Vegas race and three of the remaining fifteen winners would have been outside the top twenty at Richmond but still qualified for the Chase (Dale Jarrett, Ricky Craven and Joe Nemechek).

The next closest to sixteen winners in the first twenty-six would fourteen different drivers in 20013, 2002, 2007, 2011 and 2012. Twelve different drivers won in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2013 and eleven different drivers won in 2010. Only ten different drivers won in 2008. It's pretty much a guarantee you win one in the first twenty-six and you will be fine.

Winning a rain-delayed race just became that much more important. If there is a storm on the horizon, no team is going to pit because they could be in position to inherit the lead and let mother-nature clinch their Chase position for them. It is now worth the risk and those are the risks teams will be now willing to make.

Many have been coming up with the scenarios a driver could win the first thirty-five races and lose the championship but I think we all can agree that is the most extreme example of this format backfiring. But that is the most extreme example of this format backfiring, meaning there are plenty of other ways of this proving everything France said today as wrong.

As much as you can say the emphasis is on winning, the truth is you can still win the championship with one win or possibly no wins. You could qualify for the Chase with no wins, run consist through each round to advance and enter the final race at Homestead just needing to finish ahead of three other drivers. And if that happens, you can bet we will be discussing another change to the Chase format.

Then there is the possibility of a driver finishing thirty-ninth at Homestead and winning the champion but once again that is an extreme example. But it's still possible a driver finishes fifteenth and that is good enough to clinch the title. What an emphasis on winning!

France believes this is a much simpler format to understand. What was more simpler than whoever had the most points after thirty-six races? If it was the points system that fans didn't understand than make that simpler. Adopt a system more along Formula One. Points for only the top ten, no bonus points and larger gaps between first and second. One last point on simplicity, does France really think David Ragan's win, his only top-five, his only top-ten and twenty-fifth position in points is enough of a reason to convince someone why he is in the Chase while Brad Keselowski, nine positions ahead of him in points with six more top-fives and ten more top-tens is out?

The question is, if NASCAR is so committed to the Chase-format, why haven't they implemented it in the other two national touring divisions, the Nationwide Series and the Truck Series?

How contradictory can NASCAR be saying winning has to be the most important thing and meanwhile the defending Nationwide Series champion had no wins and the defending Truck Series champion had one win? Why hasn't NASCAR addressed the issues with those two series (i.e. Cup drivers being allowed to race an unlimited amount of race despite not being eligible for the championship)?

NASCAR is ignoring things that actually have to be changed for constantly back-peddling of previous mistakes. For those who think this is someone who doesn't want to change, believe me that isn't true (I want a title sponsor for the Indianapolis 500). Ten years ago, I was all for trying the Chase. I thought it would be great but as grew up (I was 9 years old when the Chase was introduced) and read more about motorsports history these additional changes were more and more in the wrong direction. Motorsports isn't about one race, it's about a full season of results from day one to final checkered flag. NASCAR has to get back to that.

1 Finish the best out of the four remaining drivers

2 As long as you are in the Top 30 in points and qualify for all 26 races unless you have a medical exemption (i.e. a doctor's note saying you are not fit to compete in an event.

3 Sixteen drivers won in the first 26 races in 2001 but since Kevin Harvick did not qualify for the Daytona 500, he would not make the Chase.