WITHOUT CHASE, SPRINT CUP LIKELY WOULD HAVE HAD SAME CHAMPIONS

The cream rises to the top. I believe that is true in any form of sports. No matter what kind of championship-deciding system you put in place.

Bench racing conversations eventually turn to Chase opinions. Those same opinions from the racing crowd I run with side toward a dislike for the Chase, which I agree with. The conversation takes the inevitable turn towards a “well, under the old system so-and-so would have been champion.” At this point I have to take exception.


The Chase system, love it or hate it, has been in place since 2004. Every member of every competing team is quite clear on how it works when the year begins. As Daytona Speedweeks opens, the teams have zero points. The whole circuit is tied. The Daytona 500 takes the green flag and off we go.

All cars are governed by the same set of rules. And all cars play their own strategy and rely on their own performance to get them to the title. Here is the where my argument comes into play.

Teams race differently in different series. They all race for the procedures set before them. Racers on top of the Cup Chase year after year are thinking about what they need to accomplish following 26 races. And then planning what they need to accomplish following 10 races.

Jimmie Johnson’s team has given prime examples of how they play out the strategy better than anyone else does. Besides the huge shiny trophies on his mantle, I mean.

It appears to me that the Chad Knaus-led group races strong to begin each year. They should. They are a good team.

Then during the heat of every summer, team 48 looks beatable. They look strong but not dominantly head and shoulders above the field.

“There are chinks in the armor” I hear on the radio. “Low and behold they are mortal,” says another broadcast commentator.

Until the final 10 races.

As purely my own speculative observation, this particular Hendrick group have calculated mathematically where they need to be in the championship structure. In the weeks leading up to the Chase, Johnson begins testing Knaus’ new ideas and figuring out what will work. And more importantly what won’t.

This is what appears to be that traditional summer slump Johnson endures. In reality it is a research and development session. Johnson’s results indicate inconsistency. There are annual wins mixed in with terrible finishes in July and August. But the knowledge gained puts them in place to capitalize on the final 10 races.

Would Jimmie Johnson still be a four-time consecutive champion? Maybe and maybe not. There is no honest way to tell. But we cannot look at the season long results and just magically apply a formerly used point system and say this is how the championship would look.

Any race team designs their plans around the rules set before them. From Formula One to IndyCars to Drag Racing crew chiefs have to think how their form of auto racing is structured. How points are awarded, restart procedures, and time of the day are just a few of the many factors looked at.

In NASCAR Cup, a championship-caliber crew chief makes decisions based on a 26-race series and then a 10-race showdown. NASCAR made the rules. Jimmie Johnson’s group ran their races this way.

A different system would have resulted in different decisions, but not necessarily a different champion.

(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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