Back in 2004 when NASCAR introduced the Chase format to what was then called the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series people were calling it NASCAR's version of the playoffs. It was NASCAR's answer to make the end of their season more relevant in the sports world. But the system really was no sort of playoff in reality.
The best most deserving 16 teams will make the Chase after the regular season ends. This is the same number of teams that make the playoffs in both the NBA and NHL. They will be the most deserving teams to compete for the championship since they would have earned their way in by either winning a regular season race or being high enough in points to garner a chance.
In the past three seasons of data in the first 26 races there were 11 different winners in 2013, 14 in 2012, and 14 in 2011. It seems likely that there will be at least a few Chase places given on points. So maybe these teams are not the most deserving but there are teams in all of the major sports each year that make the playoffs that really slipped in because their league or division was not very good.
The new Chase is now a true playoff system because of the elimination factor built in. Teams in the other major sports move to the next round of their playoffs by winning either a game or a series. Now in NASCAR a team will move to the next round also by winning a race. Some teams will advance also without winning but need to not be one of the bottom four teams in the playoff round to avoid losing their championship chance.
The only place NASCAR's playoff is a little off from the other sports is that their championship contest will have four teams competing in it rather than just two teams. This is the major issue most critics of the new format have. By allowing four teams to have a one off Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the highest finishing driver winning the title many feel an undeserving champion will be crowned.
It's my opinion that any one of the four drivers that have first made the Chase and then advanced through the Challenger, Contender, and Eliminator rounds would be worthy of driving for the championship.
A team could win the championship without winning a race in this format and the only way NASCAR could have gone all in on having winning as a must to be the champion would have been to only allow the winners in the Eliminator Round to advance to the Championship Race still alive. The problem was NASCAR didn't want a situation where three non final eight drivers won at Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix leaving no one to actually race for the championship. Or maybe only one of the final eight drivers would find victory lane in one of those three races and then the season finale would not mean anything.
It is clear that NASCAR wants a championship event and the way they created their playoff bracket will ensure that the season finale is just that. In all of the major professional sports the playoffs are about surviving and advancing until the championship. Then the team needs to perform at their highest level to win the title. NASCAR is now officially on the same page and it will be one heck of a thrill ride to witness.
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