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Motorsports 101 Debate: Has the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Been Good for NASCAR’s Top Series?

November 27th, 2013 at 9:45 AM
By Mark Eddinger

When the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season ended so did the tenth year of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format to decide the champion in the series. Since its inception in 2004 there have been some minor changes to the format but mostly it has stayed the same with 10 to 13 drivers racing over the final 10 events of the season to decide the champion. Motorsports 101 debates whether the Chase has been a good thing for NASCAR.

The Chase Has Hurt the Season As a Whole – By Clayton Caldwell

The Format of Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is completely opposite of what the old “Winston Cup” format that many fans were used to. The non-Chase system was used from 1975-2003 and rewarded the driver who was most consistent throughout the season. A lot of the times there were a lot of championship races that were very non competitive. For example several championship races were over with two to three races left to go in the season. NASCAR, along with new Cup Series sponsor Nextel wanted to spice up the final races of the NASCAR season and created a 10 race “Chase” to determine the championship.

Over the last ten seasons the Chase format has changed several times. For the first four seasons of the Chase there were 10 drivers that participated in the Chase. Then NASCAR added two more drivers to the Chase to make the Chase 12 drivers which is what it currently is today (unless there is scandal). It’s gone through a few other changes throughout the 10 years and overall is a very interesting debate. 
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup certainly does one thing. It makes the last 10 races of the Sprint Cup Series season interesting. It has also made the last few races prior to the Chase very interesting. 
However, whether it has been good for NASCAR is very debatable. It is very believable that it has hurt NASCAR in a couple of ways. 
First off, teams do a lot more points racing than they did back in the old system. Sponsors put a lot of pressure on teams and drivers to make the Chase and give them extra exposure in the final 10 races of the season. That has made teams run for points and not try to win races as much as they did back in the “Winston Cup” era. Sure points mattered but if you got off to a bad start or were sixth in points by half way throughout the year you didn’t have to race for anything but a win. Now that the Chase has come that fact has completely changed. 
The championship seems to be looked at in a negative way now and many people feel it is easier to put 10 strong races together than 36 consecutive races together. For example, the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson had four finishes of 28th or worse in August. Many Johnson haters were thrilled to see Johnson struggle. But as far as the points were concerned it didn’t matter. Johnson had registered so many points that aside from losing out on three bonus points in the Chase the crashes and issues had no effect on Johnson’s points. Whether he finished 28th or second Johnson was still going to make the Chase and have the same amount of points going into the Chase. Had that been the “Winston Cup” era Johnson would have lost a significant amount of points and those finishes could have derailed his season. However, with the Chase Johnson’s four bad finishes were minor blips on the radar to his sixth championship. 
The Chase has brought more excitement to the last 10 races of the season but as far as excitement goes for the rest of the season, the Chase has hurt the sport.

Things Would Be Different But the Chase Has Done It's Job – By Mark Eddinger

If the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup was never implemented the NASCAR landscape might look totally different than it does right now heading into the 2014 season in a few months. The key word is might because even if you say – under the old points system so and so would have won the championship – you also have to take into consideration that the teams might not have raced the first 26 races to the maximum points since they were just trying to make the Chase and not necessarily be leading the points.

It all hypothetical since there is no way to really know. But if we just go by amount of points gained in the 36 races then Jimmie Johnson would only have three championships (2006, 2009, 2013) instead of six. Jeff Gordon would have six championships instead of four, adding the 2004 and 2007 championships to his collection. Kurt Busch would not be a Sprint Cup champion. Tony Stewart would only have two instead of three titles. Carl Edwards would be a two-time champion in the 2008 and 2011 seasons. Kevin Harvick would have brought Richard Childress Racing a title in 2010.

Five times the Chase champion and full season champion were the same in the first 10 years and five times that was not the case. So one thing is for sure, the Chase has altered NASCAR history.

Overall though the Chase format has been good for NASCAR. The "playoff" system for NASCAR does as much as it can to try to keep NASCAR relevant in America's fall sporting culture when the NFL and college football are in full swing and the MLB playoffs are also going on.

Sometimes a full season points battle would have actually ended up being closer than the Chase format in these first 10 years but not often. Most of the time it does create a closer points battle and also brings more drivers into contention. The best thing the Chase may have done, and especially since the wild card entries were added, is create a lot of intrigue in the summer months for NASCAR. The races leading up to race 26 at Richmond have become drama filled with drivers going all out for wins to be assured of a Chase spot. The most exciting race of the season now seems to be the Chase deciding race at Richmond with so many drivers usually in contention to still make the Chase and have a championship shot. A race in late August or early September at Richmond without the Chase format would not be able to say that.

The Chase system does have its negatives like hindering the sponsors of drivers that don't make the Chase because they become virtually irrelevant. Or if you a Jimmie Johnson hater then the Chase is a bad thing but overall the Chase has served its purpose and it will be interesting to see the small tweaks made over the next 10 years to make the Cup season even better.

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Tags: Carl Edwards, Chase, Clayton Caldwell, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Mark Eddinger, Motorsports, NASCAR, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Tony Stewart

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