The Fundamental Flaw With The Chase

2014 final four


Within NASCAR is a fundamental flaw with their version of a playoff system. It’s a problem you don’t see with a playoff system in any other American-based sport. A failure to deal with it brings to bear the Chaos theory into the world of sports.

A simplified version of the Chaos theory is the “butterfly effect;” a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, and the result is a tornado in Texas. Sounds a little “out there,” but think about it, is it not a little bit like the events at Texas Motor Speedway? Clint Bowyer- a driver not in the Chase- blows a tire and brings out a caution. On the re-start, Brad Keselowski tries to shoot through a tight opening created by Jeff Gordon who comes back down to find Keselowski in the space, and well, you know the rest of the story by now.

Put even more simply, in other sports, when a team or competitor is eliminated, they are done. If they want to be a part of the proceedings, they must buy a ticket, or park in front of the couch on the TV, just like you and me to watch the proceedings. There is no more opportunity for the vanquished to have any part in events following their elimination.

A conspiracy theorist will propose Bowyer got revenge on Gordon for their little dust-up in Texas during the 2012 Chase. Now, if you ask me, that’s giving Bowyer a tremendous amount of undue credit for the foresight to see that his unfortunate circumstances at Texas would open the door for Keselowski to effect Gordon’s Chase hopes in a negative way. While this theory is a bit preposterous, you can’t dismiss it as completely unreasonable, can you?

Down the stretch, races were won by drivers previously eliminated from the Chase: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson. As long as they’re out there, they have the right to pursue the win. With that said, look at the problem it presents. Not only can a non-chaser wreck a chaser, they can also have a bearing on the chase’s outcome, though no longer in the title hunt.

What is not being said here is that the Chase is producing illegitimate champions; within the rules set forth by the governing body Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, and Kevin Harvick have earned their place in the history books. What a playoff system in a motorsports series does do is produce elements competitors in other sports don’t have to deal with, and it also opens the door for a vanquished foe to exact a measure of revenge against a surviving competitor he/she feels has wronged. Remember what Harvick said about Matt Kenseth earlier in the Chase? What if Kenseth had made the final four and Harvick had not? That could have gotten ugly.

Because the notion of racing four cars on a 1.5 mile track is ludicrous, does it not seem that NASCAR and other motorsports are unfit for a playoff system? While the 2014 Chase produced drama, intensity and hard racing, the door was still open at Homestead for a winless driver to win a championship and for someone like a Keselowski to say to a Harvick, “I may not win it, but I’ll be switched if I’ll let YOU win it.”

If left as is long enough, a driver with no skin in the game will dramatically affect the fate of a driver with a championship on the line in a fashion more dramatic than what happened with Clint Bowyer in Texas. It’s just a matter of time.