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Motorsports 101 Debate: How Should NASCAR Determine the Sprint Cup Series Champion?

January 22nd, 2014 at 9:30 AM
By Mark Eddinger
It seems all but certain that NASCAR is going to make changes to the way it crowns the Sprint Cup Series champion. Ever since NASCAR moved to the Chase format in 2004 they have been tweaking the system. A proposed 16-driver Chase now could be on the docket with drivers who win a race in the first 26 making the Chase field and then getting to 16 by going by points if 16 drivers have not won. Once the Chase starts four drivers would be eliminated under the proposed system after the third, sixth, and ninth races creating a scenario where four drivers would compete for the championship in the season finale. Motorsports 101 debates how they think the Sprint Cup Series champion should be determined.
'Mike Helton Nascar President' photo (c) 2008, Pam J. - license:
Winston Cup Format – By Clayton Caldwell
There’s no doubt NASCAR is not afraid to make changes. While I really liked the Wild Card format we’ve seen the last few seasons in the Sprint Cup Series to me there is only one way to get the sport to where NASCAR wants it to be.

I believe that part of the reason NASCAR is talking about making these changes is because of the fact that NASCAR wants teams to run hard every lap of every race. A loophole in the Wild Card format we’ve seen in the past few seasons is a driver who is solidly in the Chase can lay back prior to the Chase and use a few races as sort of test sessions and work on something to get them prepared for the Chase
NASCAR still has to sell tickets for those races, which I understand completely. You don’t want your best drivers to sandbag in certain races and not give those fans the best bang for their buck. While the excitement in the Chase I believe has been stellar NASCAR still feels it needs to fix that loophole. 
I have a system that will do that. The Winston Cup Format. The format that NASCAR used from 1975 to 2003 was the best format for drivers to drive hard in every race. In that format every race counted the same amount of points. Every race was just as important as the next. A crash in the Daytona 500 could potentially cost you the championship. 
A driver had to run hard in every race and the problem with that system was that the final races of the season may have been non-entertaining for the championship run and there were drivers who had a gigantic points lead and could potentially take a few races off. 
However NASCAR is a different sport than it was in 2003. There are anywhere from 20 to 25 cars that can win any given race. Mechanical failures and engine failures are at an all-time low and with that being the case it could be hard for a team to gain a significant advantage.
The only flaw to the system would be that drivers are not rewarded for winning races. Bill Elliott won 11 races in 1985 and still lost the championship to Darrell Waltrip who won three races that season. However, if more points are given to the winner of each race that would solve all issues. 
While all points systems will have flaws there is a reason that the “Winston Cup Format” was around for 28 seasons and did not have much change. Because the system was the best around. It would make drivers race hard every season and would make for entertaining racing throughout the season and throughout each race.
A Smaller Step – By Mark Eddinger
NASCAR is looking to make their sport as good as it can and should be commended for that. But making drastic decisions to try to spice things up is not the correct way to go about it. The idea of a winner take all race at Homestead-Miami Speedway should sound exciting and thrilling but the way NASCAR is setting it up just does not make sense.
In the proposed format after the ninth race of the Chase the top four drivers in points will have their points set even and have at it from there. The driver who finishes best in the finale will be champion even if they were lets say 50 points back and in fourth leaving the ninth race of the Chase. The champion that NASCAR would crown really would not be deserving and no one wants a sport to have a champion that did not deserve to win.
That is where NASCAR is heading if they enact the proposed format. A smaller step should be made first before NASCAR goes for something this outrageous.
Lets start with the amount of drivers in the Chase field. Sixteen is just too many. The current number of 12 is a good working number. Right now the top 10 in points make the Chase and then two Wild Card spots are given to the drivers with the most wins not in the top 10 in points after race 26. That system is exciting. The stretch run to the Chase takes on so much meaning with drivers desperately needing to win a race or multiple races to make the Chase. The closing races before the Chase have been more exciting than the closing races in the Chase under this format.
NASCAR can make this even more exciting but not by adding four more drivers into the Chase. Keep the number at 12 but only take the top eight drivers in points after race 26. Then have four Wild Card spots given to the drivers with the most wins not in the top eight. This will double the excitement that NASCAR has already built in the summer months. Winning in the first 26 races will become a necessity to get in the Chase and make every race matter.
Once the Chase field is determined the 12 drivers will compete in the 10 race Chase. The idea of having eliminations is actually not a bad one but again NASCAR should take a smaller step. After the fifth Chase race the bottom six drivers in points should be eliminated from title contention leaving the top six to compete over the final five races. Reset the points to even and then give three bonus points if a driver had won one of the first five Chase races.
From there the six most deserving drivers of the season, who have survived two elimination periods after race 26 and 31, will be able to race it out and accumulate points over the final five races to determine the champion. Could a runaway still happen over the final five races? Sure but if a driver has been that good they deserve to be the champ and not have it ripped away in the season finale because NASCAR went with a crazy idea.
Tags: Chase, Clayton Caldwell, Mark Eddinger, Motorsports, NASCAR, Sprint Cup Series

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