Richmond Rear View Mirror

Chase

These 12 drivers will compete for the Sprint Cup championship in 2012. (Photo: Getty Images)

NASCAR has tinkered with the format of the Chase nearly from the introduction of the championship system.

Ever since the idea made its debut in 2004, NASCAR has tried to find the perfect formula to create an exciting and compelling title race.

What started out as the top 10 drivers in the point standings after 26 races grew to 12, which some felt watered down the importance of the regular season.

Then came seeding tweaks of bonus points for wins and finally a revert back to the first 10 in the standings with the addition of two Wild Cards.

And at last NASCAR seems to have found the near-perfect ingredients.

The Wild Card idea was nothing less than genius and has given new life to the Chase, much in the way the concept has helped the NFL and Major League Baseball.

This year’s race to the Chase was nothing short of a wild roller coaster ride that truly was not officially decided until the checkered flag flew in Richmond.

What helped the process more than anything was how the focus nearly from the start of the season was about winning races. While points and consistency are still important and vital elements in determining the championship, more than ever crossing the finish line first matters.

The Richmond regular season finale was all about winning. Those trying to slip in as a Wild Card had to take the checkered flag or miss out on the playoff field. Drivers already locked in needed a win for the valuable three bonus points that go along toward a Chase seed. There wasn’t one reason for any driver to utter the words that make most fans cringe by saying “it was a good points day” at Richmond.

Now NASCAR needs to back down and leave the current Chase format alone, except for one needed change. The driver on top of the standings after 26 events should earn three Chase bonus points, the same reward that comes with winning a race. Right now there’s no incentive at all to lead the standings and that has hurt the integrity of schedule that leads up to the Chase.

But after that long overdue move, the Chase is about as good as it’s ever been. This year proved that in a big way.

  • Dealing with weather is never an easy proposition especially with a race the magnitude of Saturday night’s event. Truth be told I didn’t agree with NASCAR’s decision to try and get to halfway with so much on the line even though that’s the same rule in place to make every race official. Fortunately the entire distance got in albeit with a finish well past one o’clock in the morning. As the saying goes you can’t fight Mother Nature and NASCAR found that out again Saturday night.
  • While the scenarios for getting into the race through the Wild Card race weren’t quite as dramatic as some had predicted, there was drama at the end with Jeff Gordon sliding past Kyle Busch for the final spot. It was quite the performance for Gordon, who was still upset with not being more aggressive last week running down Denny Hamlin for the win in Atlanta after the four-time champion fell so far back Saturday night. For Busch it was yet another disappointment in a year of frustration.
  • Carl Edwards will join Busch as a Chase spectator after not being able to find the miracle he needed to get into the playoff race. It’s still hard to believe the driver who went down to the wire and lost to Tony Stewart in a tiebreaker last year went winless in the regular season and missed out on the Chase in 2012.
  • Clint Bowyer’s win was the cherry on a delicious sundae for Michael Waltrip Racing, the team that continues to write an amazing turnaround story this season. Bowyer and teammate Martin Truex Jr. give MWR its first two Chase berths and the way the No. 15 ran Saturday night the duo could make some noise in the championship picture.

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