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Michigan’s Quicken Loans 400 Shows Benefit and Flaw of Chase Format

June 17th, 2013 at 6:32 PM
By Clayton Caldwell

It's been the age old debate in NASCAR. What championship format is better? Is the 10-race Chase format the best way to determine the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion? How about the format used from 1975-2003, where consistency was the answer to winning the championship. There are very opinionated people on both sides of the argument, but one thing is for sure. Michigan showed the benefit and the flaws in the Chase format. 

It is highly unlikely TRD would be taking horsepower away from their teams if it was the old system. I believe that the sole reason why Toyota Racing Development is taking horsepower away from the teams right now is because they want to have all their bugs fixed come Chase time when the money is really on the line. If they can figure out what is going on with the engines by Chase time they could be real strong when the championship is on the line. According to jayski.com, TRD decided to give more horsepower to Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin on Sunday and elected to not give the horsepower to the other drivers. 

TRD has given up some horsepower with their engines because of the recent failures the engine department has developed. They have decided that cutting the horsepower down a few notches will create less engine failures therefore allowing their teams to finish races more and give them a better opportunity to earn more points and not risk engine failure for the chance of victory. The last two races Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing, the two teams who use TRD engines, have led a grand total of 0 laps led. That is a stunning development considering that Matt Kenseth had led a lap in 11 of the season's first 13 races. 

'' photo (c) 2013, Parker Anderson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

It's clear that both organizations have had significant drop offs since TRD has cut their horsepower. If this wasn't the Chase format that wouldn't be the case. You would need to be on the ball at all times to win the championship. TRD couldn't afford to give up horsepower because it would cost them too many points.

This weekend TRD added horsepower to two cars. Those two cars were Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin, which is interesting considering that Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin were selected because Martin runs a limited schedule with Michael Waltrip Racing and is not in contention to make the Chase. His job is to just win races. TRD is more willing to take a risk with someone like Martin than they are with Kyle Busch or Matt Kenseth, who have multiple wins and need to accumulate points to stay in the top ten. Denny Hamlin's situation is similar to Martin's. Hamlin needed to win races to make the Chase. Which is why he was given more horsepower than the other cars using TRD engines. 

Many people may have problems with TRD's plan. TRD is using the last 13 races of the regular season as sort of a test session for their engine program. There is obviously an issue with the engines TRD has produced and if they fix their issues they will have as good of a shot to win the Championship. Some say it's smart, while others have an issue with Toyota not trying to win all the races. 

While the TRD situation is showing some flaws in the Chase format Jimmie Johnson's day at Michigan proved the benefit of the Chase format.

Johnson was going for two wins in a row, which would have given him his fourth win of the season and 12 bonus points in the Chase. Those 12 bonus points would be valuable for Johnson going into the Chase. Johnson had led 18 laps early in the event, but in the closing stages of the race he tried to chase down leader Greg Biffle. Johnson moved to second place with just under ten laps to go and he put distance on Kevin Harvick. All Johnson was focused on was to win the race and gain more bonus points towards the Chase. There is no doubt that a driver in NASCAR wants to win every race they enter in but it was a huge lead for Biffle and it seemed like Johnson was trying to do the near impossible. 

'Jimmie Johnson celebrates victory, 2013 STP Gas Booster 500' photo (c) 2013, chayes_2014 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Johnson may have been content with second place, if this was the old system. He may have been happy taking a good points day and finishing second. He may not have pushed as hard. Johnson did push hard and eventually the right front tire on the #48 Chevrolet blew sending Johnson into the wall. 

The reward was a lot higher than the risk for Johnson. He was the points leader in the race and he had a gigantic lead over Carl Edwards.  If Johnson had won the race he would have three more points towards the Chase. Instead Johnson got into an accident, trying to win the race. The accident, however, didn't hurt Johnson at all as far as the championship goes. He lost several points on his lead, but it doesn't matter if he is leading the points come Chase time. All that matters is how many bonus points he has. 

The Quicken Loans 400 showed a benefit and a flaw of the Chase Format in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It shows that drivers can push hard but also shows that one mistake doesn't hurt a team/driver all that bad because the points reset come Chase time. Whether you like the Chase format or the old format better one thing is for sure. It definitely changes the way drivers in the Sprint Cup Series race. There's no doubt about it. 

Tags: Jimmie Johnson, michael waltrip racing, Motorsports, NASCAR, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Toyota Racing Development

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