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How to Fix NASCAR's Chase Problem

By Joe Munley

I’m going to piggyback on a post written by Rob: NASCAR’s Gimmick Problem. In the post, Rob targets the gimmickry of the All-Star Race & the convoluted ‘playoff’ system known as the Chase.

There’s nothing I can really say about the All-Star Race. Every major sport has the same half-speed approach to exhibiting its stars… and it’s simply wrong for the All Star game (or race) to carry the kind of weight that MLB has given it, so I guess we’ll just have to settle for sports stars giving it their ‘some’ instead of their ‘all’ in these types of exhibitions.

I do have something to add to Rob’s gripe with the Chase. As a race fan, I agree with his assessment:

“My main problem has been with NASCAR’s playoff, the Chase for the Cup. Why are racing teams that are not in the top ten racing alongside the teams that have a chance to win? This is a big problem for me. Why should those non-qualifying teams be able to influence who wins it all?”

I don’t claim to know how to make the system perfect, but I do know it could be much better. Here is how I would go about it by implementing the ‘Contrarian System’:

Reduce the Overall Field

If only the Top 10 drivers – and 2 wildcards – are eligible for the Chase, then why are there 43 cars in the field throughout? It serves no purpose other than to allow the also-ran team owners to continue to cash in on their sponsorship deals. There would be none of that under the Contrarian System.

First, I would open Chase eligibility to the Top 20 drivers in the regular season. Those 20 drivers would be the only 20 cars on the track throughout the Chase. By expanding the number of Chase-eligible teams, and reducing the overall field by more than half, each race will mean more since each driver on the track will actually have a chance to win it all in the end.

Make Wins REALLY Mean More

In 2011 there was a lot of talk about wins meaning more within the points system & how this would be better for the sport. It was better for the sport, but not as good as it could have been.

Under the Contrarian System wins would absolutely dictate the top of the field for the Chase. In fact, wins would allow a driver, whether he’s 14th in points or 40th, to have a spot in the Chase in the end. The more a driver wins, the higher his spot in the standings would be.

The current points system could stay as it would help determine the rank of drivers in the field after the drivers with the most wins had already claimed their spots in the Chase. Also, drivers with the same amount of wins would either be placed higher – or in an extreme case, knocked out of the Chase – based on their total points accumulated.

Click HERE for a look at the standings as they are today under the current system. Now, take a look at how the Top 20 would be shaking out so far this NASCAR season under the Contrarian System:

Contrarian System (Wins in parentheses)

1. Denny Hamlin (2)
2. Tony Stewart (2)
3. Brad Keselowski (2)
4. Greg Biffle (1)
5. Matt Kenseth (1)
6. Jimmie Johnson (1)
7. Kyle Busch (1)
8. Ryan Newman (1)
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
10. Martin Truex Jr.
11. Kevin Harvick
12. Carl Edwards
13. Clint Bowyer
14. Paul Menard
15. Joey Logano
16. Kasey Kahne
17. Jeff Burton
18. Marcos Ambrose
19. Juan Pablo Montoya
20. Jamie McMurray

So, under the Contrarian System, Ryan Newman would be 8th in the standings – instead of 14th (and out of Chase position) as he is under the current system – because his win would actually mean more than the points accumulated by the drivers ahead of him without a win under their belt.

On the flip side of that, Dale Jr. would be 9th in the Contrarian System – instead of 3rd as he is under the current system – because his lack of a win would not trump the wins claimed by other drivers.

And since the field of 20 above would represent the only teams eligible to run in the Chase, notable drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, David Ragan, Regan Smith, AJ Allmendinger and David Reutimann would simply be finished for the season once the Chase started. They could not continue to bank on their sponsors by running races that would be meaningless to them.

Now, as for the Chase itself and how it could be worked out to make the final race be for all the marbles… I guess I’ll start thinking on that. Any ideas?

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Get more great sports analysis over at Contrarian Fanatics.


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