Replace The Chase

There's still a lot of debate over the worth of NASCAR's new Chase for the Championship (C4C) and NASCAR officials seem to think that's a good thing. They seem to think it's a good thing despite decent polls that show fans by approximately a 2-1 margin don't like the idea. There'd be a lot of folks talking and debating about a presidential candidate who was behind in the polls by a 2-1 margin as well, though I doubt that candidate would care much for the tone of the debate.

Other NASCAR scribes (and it's a not a very exclusive group) seem to be missing the point of the debate. They seem to think the two choices are the old system, implemented in 1975, or the new system foisted off on unsuspecting fans this year. To me that sounds like a question that comes up when driving on a snowy road when the back end of the car gets away from you in a bend. Would you rather hit a tree or an embankment? Neither thank you. I would prefer to regain control of my car, complete the ride home in a reasonable amount of time and warm my bones by the fire cursing the winter.

Proponents of the new system say that we now have a very exciting points battle on our hands, dismissing completely the notion that a driver who ran up a 400 point advantage over another fellow earned those points. If it's not communist it's at least socialistic to reduce that advantage to 20 points for the benefit of the TV folks and the NASCAR coffers. Those same proponents point out last year at this point fans were complaining Matt Kenseth had an insurmountable points lead and was coasting to a championship. (A championship he won by 90 points, but let's give them this one.) Yes, folks were saying last year that the points system wasn't working and there should be more of an emphasis on excellence rather than consistency. I fail to see how the new system adopted has done that. It is not only possible but likely this year's champion will not score a victory in the final ten races. First place still pays a maximum of 20 points more than second place. As my niece might say "big whoop."

An ideal points system would award a lot more points to a driver that wins than to a second place driver or the other drivers in the top 10. So here's my proposed solution to fix the points system without any of these C4C dog and pony show antics.

The winner of a race will get 500 points. 500 is a number that has positive connotations in stock car racing. The second place finisher will receive 250 points, the third place finisher will get 175 points, the fellow in fourth 150 points, and the fifth place driver will get 140. The sixth place driver will get 135 points, the seventh place driver 130 points and so on with five point increments down to the 20th place driver who gets 65 points. From 20th on back a driver gets zero points. That accomplishes two things. It takes the sting out a particularly terrible finish like Mark Martin's Daytona 500 effort this year that lasted only a few laps and left him 43rd. It also gets the chopped up, battered, fenderless, hoodless, held together with tape and baling wire refugees of wrecks off the track and out of the way not out there getting in the way of the leaders on one of the increasing number of one groove tracks on the circuit.

I proposed something similar last year but Brian France must not have gotten the memo. But now 26 races deep into the season I can actually throw out some numbers as to how the points would look right now. (Again keep in mind, teams would likely have used different strategies if this system was in place, and my guess is they'd have gunned harder for wins.) At this point the top 12 would look fairly similar to the current points, at least as far as the drivers involved. (Note the totals in this article reflect points after Richmond, not New Hampshire. See Editor's note at bottom for points standings as they would be under my system at New Hampshire.)

Jeff Gordon- 4610
Jimmie Johnson- 4550
Earnhardt Jr.- 4125
Tony Stewart- 3305
Matt Kenseth- 3095
Kurt Busch- 3025
Mark Martin –2880
Elliott Sadler- 2680
Ryan Newman- 2680
Jeremy Mayfield- 2580
Kasey Kahne- 2415
Jamie McMurray- 2270

Those points gaps might look huge in some instances but you're thinking of the old points system. Keep in mind under the new and improved Matt system there's still 5000 points available to a driver who won the next ten races. Yep, he could come from square zero and at least theoretically be champion. No one is eliminated a chance at the title during the final ten races under my system. And there's no more of this maximum points swing of 156 points per race. (The difference between a driver who wins a race and leads the most laps and the fellow who finishes 43rd.) Now there's a 500 point gap between the winner and anyone who finishes 21st or worse. Talk about points volatility.

Would this system make drivers chase a win more aggressively? I think so. Take the example of two drivers. The first driver is running hard earlier in one race but crashes out and finishes 43rd. But he bounces back the next week, puts the bit between his teeth and wins. The other driver finishes second one week and third the next. Under my system the driver who won one race and wrecked out of the other earns 75 more points than his more consistent rival. Under the current system would lose about 131 points. In the final laps of a race a driver running fifth, a decent points day under the current points system, would know he could get 360 more points if he won the race. My guess is he's not going to lay back and settle for fifth.

Some will say a 250 point margin for victory is too big. I'm willing to compromise a little. Let's say it was 400 points to win and the rest of my system is implemented. The points would be somewhat closer under that system. They'd be as follows right now:

Jeff Gordon- 4110
Jimmie Johnson- 3950
Earnhardt Jr.- 3725
Tony Stewart- 3105
Matt Kenseth- 2895
Kurt Busch- 2825
Mark Martin- 2780
Ryan Newman- 2580
Elliott Sadler- 2480
Jeremy Mayfield- 2480
Kasey Kahne- 2415
Jamie McMurray- 2270

And I'm going to toss another twist in there to keep racing exciting during the entire event. Replacing the current 5 points to lead a lap bonus we'll give drivers one tenth of a point for each mile led. (To cut down on hopeless confusion, rather than counting passes that take pass on each lap, the official leader of the race at the start finish line would get a bonus equal to the tracks length in miles multiplied by .10. Leading 100 laps at the two mile Michigan track would earn a driver 20 points. Leading 100 laps at Bristol would earn a driver 5 points and so on.)

But, you're thinking shaking your head at me like you did when Bubba the Idiot Boy ate library paste in high school, what NASCAR needs is some sort of big gimmick to go up against the NFL once football season starts. That's the magic of C4C. All of a sudden there's a lot on the line. Gimmicks? You want gimmicks? (Personally I don't.) OK. During the final ten races of the season we'll double the points paid per position and double the laps led bonus points. That's right A win will be worth 1000 points! Finishing 21st or worse is still worth zero. You want to talk about drivers going all out for a race win? That should do it, without totally negating the advantage a driver builds up over the first 26 races of the season. Under my first proposal if Jeff Gordon were to finish outside the top 20 in the next two races any driver in the top 10 in points would be able to take over the points lead by winning both races. (Depending on how the other eight drivers finished of course.) With a potential 1000 point swing per race it would be unlikely the championship would be decided until the final race and if it were the driver who clinched the title early would have richly earned the honor, most likely by winning a bunch of races.

Was the old points system perfect? No it was not. But to resort to hyperbole (and when don't I?) I'd say the old points system was like an infant with a mild fever and a nasty cough. Naturally it needed some attention to make it better. But the fans bought that baby to Dr. France who whipped out a .44 Magnum and shot the kid dead. At that point he handed us a new baby but the replacement is blind and has no arms. The cure is worse than the cough with the Chase for the Championship.

Editor's Note: Because of the amount of math involved the numbers above reflect points after Richmond with the Chase ready to start. The points below are updated after New Hampshire. Note that the damage done to the three Chase drivers who failed to finish the race while still substantial are not devastating. Remember points are doubled for the final ten races.

Jeff Gordon- 4870
Jimmie Johnson- 4770
Earnhardt Jr.- 4475
Kurt Busch- 4025
Matt Kenseth- 3595
Tony Stewart- 3305
Mark Martin- 3080
Elliott Sadler- 2930
Kasey Kahne- 2715
Ryan Newman- 2680
Jeremy Mayfield- 2580
Jamie McMurray- 2550

Note that any of the top 4 drivers could leave Richmond leading the points and after two races any one of eight drivers could be leading the points.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2004

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