Monday, January 20, 2014

So NASCAR Wants to Expand The Chase

Sometimes I wonder.

There is a fine line between being a sanctioning body and a business.

A sanctioning body sets the rules, organizes competitions and makes sure those competing are doing so within the rules.

A business, at the end of the day, has to make money.

Sometimes the two are one. NASCAR is a sanctioning body and a business. While setting rules, it wants to make every penny it possibly can. But at what point does business decisions put the integrity of the sanctioning body at risk?

Reports are NASCAR wants to expand the Chase to sixteen drivers and winning a race in the first twenty-six would pretty much guarantee a driver a spot in the Chase and guarantee the championship coming down to the final race.

I thought Bob Pockrass nailed it in his column. This feels like a change for change sake. It's feels as if NASCAR thinks it's time to do something different. NASCAR is trying too hard. They no longer want it to be natural. It has to be scripted. Scripting it is the only way they can guarantee what otherwise can't be guaranteed.

Does it make the season less meaningful? It feels that way but think about it this way:

1. NASCAR will still have some type of bonus for winning races prior to the Chase. So don't expect the drive who wins the Daytona 500 to really slouch off for the remaining twenty-five races. They will probably continue the three-bonus points for each win and they may even increase the bonus.

2. Winning a race won't guarantee just anyone a Chase position but it probably will if you run full-time. Don't worry, if Boris Said breaks through and wins at Sonoma or Watkins Glen, he won't qualify. If anything the rules will say all race winners within the top twenty-five or top thirty in points are locked it.

3. Is really going to change all that much?

Here is what we keep hearing: Sixteen driver Chase with race winners from the first twenty-six getting in and the remaining spots being filled by the next highest drivers in the points without a win. The lowest four drivers after races three, six and nine of the Chase will be eliminated with the finale being a four driver shootout for the title.

One again, expect some type of extra criteria for qualifying for the Chase than just winning on of the first twenty-six race. Probably a rule saying you have to be in the top twenty-five.

Last year, twelve drivers in the top twenty-five won a race in the first twenty-six races and would likely qualify for the Chase with the proposed system.

Matt Kenseth: 5 wins.
Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch: 4.
Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards: 2.
Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex, Jr., Tony Stewart and David Ragan: 1.

The Tony Stewart situation leads to controversy, maybe more than the one that happened at Richmond. Stewart was hurt and didn't return for the remainder of the season. Would he or anyone else in his position get a Chase position? If he qualifies by the criteria set (win a race and be in the top twenty-five) then he should get a spot.

Example being the 1970 Formula One season. Jochen Rindt lost his life in practice for the Italian Grand Prix and was leader of the world championship. He couldn't defend his position but still won the title because Jacky Ickx was unable to pass the Austrian in the standings.

Look at the recent Porsche Supercup season. Sean Edwards lost his life prior to the final race weekend and was leading the points over Nicki Thiim. Edwards wasn't removed from points lead because he wasn't able to defend his position. He remained the points leader and there was still the possibility Edwards would posthumously be awarded the title. Of course that wasn't the case as Thiim outscored the late-Edwards but Edwards still finished second in the standings.

If a driver or drivers weren't able to pass Stewart, should he lose a spot just because he is unable to compete? I don't think so. He earned the spot. Rindt wasn't erased for the record books when he lost his life and they didn't hand the title to Ickx because he was alive and competing. The same should be the case if a driver is in Stewart's situation. Would Stewart just be taking up a spot it the Chase? Yeah but he qualified and it's unfortunate he would've had the chance to compete.

Moving on. Take those twelve drivers listed above. Now do they get three points for each win or more? I think it will increase a little to give those with more wins more cushion to get through at least the "first round" of three races.

Using three points though as the bonus, the standings would've been:

Kenseth: 2015
Johnson and Kyle Busch: 2012
Harvick, Kahne and Edwards: 2006
Logano, Biffle, Newman, Truex, Stewart and Ragan: 2003.

The final four spots of the Chase would have been filled by the top four without a win. They were:

Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon.

The next question is what happens after races three and six of the Chase? Are the points total just increased for the "advancing" drivers? Do wins with in each "round" get more bonus points? I don't know. For this sake, let's just say they increase the points of all the drivers by 500 points just to guarantee they finish ahead of those previously eliminated.

Theoretically speaking, it would have looked like this after the "first round."

Kenseth: 2149
Johnson: 2141
Ky. Busch: 2137
Harvick: 2110
Gordon: 2110
Biffle: 2108
Newman: 2104
Bowyer: 2098
Ku. Busch: 2094
Truex: 2093
Earnhardt, Jr.: 2092
Edwards: 2084
Logano: 2083
Kahne: 2077
Ragan: 2056
Stewart: 2003

No real drastic changes. Of course Stewart is eliminated due to not competing because of injury. Ragan's best finish in those three races was a twenty-fifth and Logano and Kahne would've been eliminated. They finished eighth and twelfth respectively in the final 2013 standings. So each would have finished worse than they actually did.

Truex would still be alive. After all, the Richmond race probably doesn't go down the same way it did with team orders.

Everyone gets 500 points to guarantee a top twelve. After race six, here is how it would have looked:

Johnson: 2754
Kenseth: 2750
Ky. Busch: 2728
Harvick: 2728
Gordon: 2720
Earnhardt, Jr.: 2702
Biffle: 2701
Bowyer: 2697
Ku. Busch: 2693
Edwards: 2686
Newman: 2682
Truex: 2676

Truex's championship ends but he is guaranteed a top twelve. Newman finished eleventh in reality and would be eleventh when eliminated. Carl Edwards finished thirteenth in reality but here he is guaranteed at least a position better. Kurt Busch finished tenth in reality but would have a shot for at least ninth.

Another 500 point for the top eight. Down the to the "third round" and final eliminations:

Johnson: 2884
Kenseth: 2856
Harvick: 2850
Ky. Busch: 2827
Earnhardt, Jr.: 2821
Gordon: 2804
Biffle: 2801
Bowyer: 2797

The top four remains the same as reality. Biffle is guaranteed at least one position better than reality He finished ninth.

Ultimately, the top four doesn't change. But now comes the season finale. Reports say "winner-take-all." One problem. What if none of the four win? For example, Denny Hamlin won the season finale. He wouldn't have been champion. So really it would be "whoever-finishes-better-out-of-these-four-drivers-is-champion."

At Homestead, Kenseth finished second, Kyle Busch seventh, Johnson ninth and Harvick tenth. Kenseth would have been champion with Busch finishing second, Johnson third and Harvick fourth.

Changes wouldn't be that drastic. Sure Kenseth would be champion but the top four would have remained the same four drivers.

A lot of people would be saying how great it is that David Ragan gets a shot but is it? Other than his Talladega win, he had only other one top fifteen finish in the first twenty-six races. Does he really deserve a shot at the title because he won Talladega? Nothing against Ragan, he is a really talented driver and deserves a better ride than what he has but a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then. It doesn't mean Ragan deserves a Chase spot. Does he really deserve the spot over Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray. Neither won a race in the first twenty-six but Keselowski had six top-fives and eleven top-tens and McMurray had two top-fives and six top tens. Don't get me wrong, looking at that stat line I'm not sure McMurray deserves a spot either.

Expanding the Chase is an improvement. NASCAR has bigger problems such as having no limit on drivers racing in the Nationwide Series who are ineligible for the championship.

NASCAR obsession with having the title come down to the final turn of the final lap of the final race of the season every year has grown tiresome and aren't realistic. No other series has this obsession, not even Formula One and they doubled the points for the final round of their championship. If anything, NASCAR should get rid of the Chase and simplify the points to only pay the top ten or fifteen positions of each race and let it unfold naturally. No eliminations after "race x", no extra bonus points for every win in the first twenty-six races, no wild cards, no more. Let's get back on track.

After ten years The Chase has worn out it's welcome. Every year the title has come down to the final race but that isn't enough for the powers that be. They are searching for perfection in the system but perfection is not possible. If only they realized that and can enjoy crowning the best driver from the drop of the green flag at Daytona in February to the checkered flag at Homestead in November.