Opinion: Deciphering Proposed Chase Changes

Homestead

NASCAR's proposed changes to the Chase creates questions Dustin Long seeks to answer. (Photo: Getty Images)

NASCAR Chairman Brian France has hinted - or warned as those who make dour predictions might say - that change was coming to NASCAR’s points system and the Chase.

So when The Charlotte Observer reported the proposed changes Friday night, the depth of what NASCAR is considering shouldn’t have been surprising.

Think of the proposed Chase as a 16-team tournament with a season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway where four drivers are guaranteed to race for the championship every year. 

OK, now breathe. 

The Charlotte Observer reported that NASCAR is looking to increase the Chase from 12 to 16 drivers. The report states that a victory in the first 26 races would virtually guarantee a driver a spot in the Chase. 

In the Chase, four drivers would be eliminated from title contention after the third, sixth and ninth races. The final four drivers would have their points reset entering Homestead to create one race for the championship - the Game 7 moment France has talked often of having.

These proposed changes fulfill the edict France has repeated throughout the offseason. He wanted to incentivize winning to give fans more drama. 

To those who dislike the Chase, these possible changes likely won’t alter their opinion. Those who like the Chase, they might be conflicted by NASCAR’s action. 

The sport can’t ignore either group. It also can’t overlook that a winner-take-all race likely will increase interest in NASCAR and lure more fans to tune into the final races of the Chase. With a new TV contract set to begin next year, that’s important.

The final four entering last year’s season finale at Homestead featured Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. The storylines could have gone from Johnson going for his sixth title to the head-to-head battle with Kenseth throughout the year and Harvick and Busch racing for their first Cup crown. 

Just think of a possible Homestead showdown for the title with Johnson, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Imagine that would draw more fans.

Certainly, issues can arise with just one race to settle the championship. Many will point to the shenanigans by Michael Waltrip Racing in last year’s Chase cutoff race at Richmond International Raceway and suggest it could happen at Homestead.

Yes it could, but series officials are no longer as naive. That race changed how they view actions on the track and led to France declaring that competitors had to give 100 percent on the track. With series officials watching more closely, it will more difficult for a team to manipulate the finale.

Another argument will be how there will be too much left to fate in the season finale. Some will argue that the title will come down to only one race. That’s an overreaction.

Yes, a backmarker could impact the title race by collecting a contender in a crash. That just adds to the heighten level for Homestead. The tension of a championship seventh game is how any one action can dramatically, and unexpectedly, alter the outcome of who wins the title. Admittedly, there aren’t other teams that can impact those two teams as in NASCAR but that’s also the challenge of winning the title.

A question many will have with these changes is why expand the Chase to 16 teams. Simple. It is more difficult to make NASCAR’s Chase than it is for teams in other sports to make the playoffs.

Only 27.9 percent of NASCAR’s teams make the Chase (12 of 43). Both the NBA and NHL have more than half their teams (16 of 30) make the playoffs. The NFL has 37.5 percent of its teams make the playoffs, and 33.3 percent of Major League Baseball’s teams advance to the postseason. Even with putting 16 teams in NASCAR’s Chase, that means 37.8 percent of the teams can contend for the title. That puts NASCAR in line with other major pro sports. Doesn’t mean it’s right, just that NASCAR’s system is not out of whack compared to other sports.

Remember, these changes could be a prelude of what’s to come in the sport. NBC takes over for ESPN in 2015 and there’s been talk of more changes.

Before panic sets in, the changes to the Chase are proposed. They have yet to be official. NASCAR isn’t expected to announce any such changes until Jan. 30. The Charlotte Observer noted that these changes could be altered before they are announced.

Hints have been given - or you’ve been warned. Change is at hand in NASCAR. Be ready.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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