Around The Track: The Great Chase Debate

Ryan O'Hara / Tom Baker Around The Track Blog, Carolinas Racing, Featured, MidSouth, Midwest, NASCAR, Northeast, Southeast, Staff Columns, Uncategorized, West 0 Comments

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Blog by Race Chaser Online West Coast Correspondent Ryan Prak O’Hara and Race Chaser Online Senior Editor Tom Baker — Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media photo — This is the debut of our all-new “Around The Track” debate blog, an idea we’ve been kicking around for awhile.

All of us at RaceChaser are excited about the opportunity to discuss and debate some of the hot-button issues of the day in various disciplines of the sport we all love.

We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we do enjoy a spirited passionate discourse now and then (as evidenced on our weekly Motorsports Madness shows on Monday nights at 7pm on BlogTalkRadio.com/Speed77Radio), so we thought we would bring some of that to our RaceChaser pages.

Our first edition literally wrote itself as RCO correspondent and college hockey player Ryan Prak O’ Hara sent us a scathing piece about his disdain for NASCAR’s chase.  Senior Editor Tom Baker jumped in to disagree and the puck was spontaneously dropped on this new feature.

Time to go “Around The Track”  – Let the gamesmanship begin!

PRAK:  I believe  that NASCAR came up with the chase format thinking it would benefit the sport greatly. In addition, I believe a majority of fans seemed content with the idea.   I just think that those who implemented the format did not think enough about the potential flaws.

With the latest alteration to the Chase for the Championship format, creating what is described by supporters as a ‘casual fan’ product, we see that the format emphasizes manufactured excitement over legitimate competition.

NASCAR on ESPN pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch has worked for the ‘Worldwide Leader in Sports’ since 1984. Punch believes that having a playoff system is incomplete without some form of eliminations.

Therein lies what in my opinion is the main flaw in the new system. Pre-set elimination rounds will take place after races at Dover, Talladega, and Phoenix – all leading up to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Stop and think about that for a moment… Talladega as an eliminator race. Known for its massive wrecks, NASCAR appears willing to allow crashes to decide who gets into the penultimate round.

NASCAR calls this ‘excitement.’ I call it bologna.

Have we gotten to the point where we feel we have to manufacture excitement every single race?  Let it be known, IndyCar does not have to pull such gimmicks because their product (the racing) is already exciting.

TOM:  True, Ryan.  IndyCar’s racing is about the most exciting of any major series right now, but their ratings stink and nobody shows up to watch at many tracks.  They have their own issues.  NASCAR wasn’t trying to “manufacture excitement” at every race, they were just trying to put more emphasis on who wins each race, rather than just who is best at using cruise control when their car isn’t perfect.  

PRAK:  I believe there was no need for NASCAR to bring in the chase because the excitement was already in the product. Given, sometimes the points battles were widespread on some occasions, but that is life and sport.

TOM:  Many would agree with you about not ever starting the chase, Prak.  They don’t have it in the Nationwide Series or the Trucks and those points battles seem to be exciting enough much of the time.  I think less would agree that it was because the product was already so exciting.  They would just say points champions should be the most consistent drivers over a whole season.

I disagree.  No other sport crowns a champion that way, do they?  They all reward winning games or matches.  Almost isn’t good enough.  The point of a race is to win, and this year’s format tries, at least, to get closer to making it more about winning than about just being close.

PRAK:  Two of the 16 drivers in the chase this season were not even in the top 20 in points by the end of Richmond.  With all due respect, Aric Almirola and A.J. Allmendinger are  two prime examples of drivers who should not even be in championship contention. In addition, Kyle Busch (17th) and Denny Hamlin (19th) did not exactly have stellar performances either.  Now they have a chance to be the champion?

On the other foot, Clint Bowyer had 11 top ten finishes and yet is absent from this year’s playoffs. Bowyer was a mere seven points shy of cracking the top ten under the old system.  He has no chance to race for the championship.

This new system rewards mediocrity.

TOM:  You make some valid points, Prak.  But previous chase formats have not rewarded winning enough.  NASCAR is trying to strike a balance.  There have always been drivers who some felt should have made the chase who didn’t, and some who made it that shouldn’t have.  That’s fair enough.  But how much talk do we hear about NASCAR being boring and that running around for points instead of trying to win the race was getting old?

I’ve heard far more praise for the 2014 format thus far than I have criticism, and I happen to agree that winning ought to matter far more than it did under the old system.  I was not in favor of a chase, but I am keeping an open mind this year to see how this plays out over the whole 10 races.  Right now we know winning is everything every race, and it’s likely that some of those who you think shouldn’t be in the chase will be eliminated early if they don’t step up their game.

PRAK:  I can only hope wholeheartedly that the driver who would be leading the points under the old “non-chase” format, wins it this year. It has happened the past two years and it appears Jeff Gordon could be on his way to winning what would actually be his seventh championship if the old system were still used.

TOM:  You’d probably be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t be happy to see Jeff win his fifth title.  If he does, it could be said that he’ll have earned this one maybe moreso than any of the others because four drivers will go into Homestead tied with a “best finish takes all” shootout in true “championship” event format.  That will make that final race the most important finale’ in NASCAR points history, because it will be the first time it’s ever happened, manufactured or not, and everybody will be watching to see how it ends. If you’re going to have a “playoff” it seems like this one, with a nod to Dr. Punch, gets closer to how it should be.

OK, RaceChaser nation:  What do you think?  Leave a “family-friendly” comment in the comments box and let us know.  We know NASCAR isn’t going to do away with the “chase”, but is this year’s better or worse and why?

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