We are in the seventh season using The Chase format to determine the NASCAR Cup champion. We are also in the seventh season of fans disliking The Chase format to determine the NASCAR Cup champion.
This is my 36th year of being involved with auto racing. My circle of friends and associates is pretty heavily populated with veteran racing folks. I do not know of a single person who likes The Chase or even thought it was a good idea.
I consistently hear how exciting and great The Chase is. Those comments come from people broadcasting with a NASCAR-related program. Be it radio or television I am being told how good for the sport The Chase is.
I believe they are trying to convince everyone listening, not inform them.
There are fellow writers who recall stories of sitting in press booths at Rockingham or Phoenix covering a race that was “meaningless.” Translated that is a race occurring after the champion has been mathematically decided. But those races were not meaningless to the most important group of people involved: the fans.
If a media member wants to regale us with tales about moping because a title was decided before the season was over then they need a gentle reminder. The fans don’t care. That race was still important to all those who bought tickets. And to those that watched on television or listened on the radio. Yes the fans whose base was still on an increase in every year before The Chase.
No fans buy tickets to a race looking for a championship battle. They want to see the race and drivers battling for a win. Not drivers counting points in some 10-race showdown.
Mathematically speaking the championship deciding margins is tight during Chase history. The margins are also manufactured excitement.
We are not stick-and-ball sports. I wish NASCAR would stop trying to emulate them. We used to take pride in the fact that we were different. Show that fact off to a point. Now we are trying to use their playoff blueprint.
We used to want other sports to admire us and our way of doing things. If we wanted to watch a ball game we would. We do not. We race. If baseball playoffs or the NFL was on another channel then… so what?
I enjoy football. I usually start to follow it closer after race season. And to be honest I have no idea who won the World Series last year. Or any year for that matter. I am a racer. Nothing more, nothing less. But proud of whom I am. And I used to be proud of the differences between my sport and the others.
The Chase that is the source of much discontent is shoved down our throats during television coverage. Graphics and colors constantly remind the viewer of who is where within the top 12. Is there anything more annoying during a race broadcast then the phrase “If the race ended now?” Memo to networks: there is a race today. That is what we want to see.
For every argument against The Chase there is an excuse to justify it. Then our ratings should be through the roof. Shouldn’t they? The Chase started in 2004. The top-35 rule started in 2005. Ratings began sagging annually since. Is all this that hard to figure out?
It comes down to integrity. If a driver has a 300-point lead with two races left then he earned it. So be it. Let him enjoy what he rightfully won.
Can this be taken to the extreme? Reset the entire 43-car point standings after the white flag in Homestead, red flag the race, and allow a one-lap showdown among the entire field to determine the championship. Is that exciting enough for NASCAR office types?
Fans do not like The Chase. As the sport has grown new challenges have been faced and conquered. NASCAR still enjoys great popularity but is facing struggles it never had to address. The Chase is an unpopular choice that would be better served behind them.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Thursdays at 9pm ET. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com)
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