The Chase Stinks! No It Doesn’t! Yes It Does!

2013 Chase field

With Jimmie Johnson’s dominating win in the Ninth Annual Texas AAA 500, the din of dislike by NASCAR fans concerning the the Chase for the Championship grows louder. Even some of the most reasoned fans decry the governing body’s playoff system as the “worst idea ever.” Some in the media stand in support, while finding a fan who is supportive enough to put in writing is rarer yet. On the other side of the coin is a seemingly overwhelming fan base who possess a visceral dislike for this method of determining a season’s champion.

The objective here today is not to advocate one way or the other, but to present both sides of the issue.

THE CHASE STINKS!

“Racing is not a stick and ball sport.” Put simply, given that auto racing is an “individual” sport (there are crews and the shop personnel, but it’s one guy actually on the track), the Chase has the look of a concept that is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It’s not a match-up of two competitors, but the continual competition of 12 over a 10 race stretch that involves not a field of 12, but a field of 43 who can sway a race’s outcome.

“The Chase determines a 10 race, not a 36 race champion.” Tony Stewart’s 2011 championship run may well be Exhibit “A.” As you will recall, when that Chase began, Smoke opined that he didn’t belong. As the stretch run unfolded, Stewart reeled off five wins, including the season finale at Homestead-Miami to tie Carl Edwards- the steadier racer that season- and win out on the basis of more victories. In essence, the Chase devalues consistency.

“There 31 other drivers still running that go virtually unnoticed.” Critics will point the investment by sponsor in a sponsor driven sports gets a weak return if their driver fails to make the Chase, as all the media attention is focused on Chase drivers. For example, how many knew that non-chaser Brad Keselowski finished sixth at Texas? How about the 10th and 11th place runs of Jamie McMurray and Jeff Burton at Martinsville?

“The Chase has not accomplishing its stated purposes.” Disgruntled fans maintain there is still not enough value given to winning. Jimmie Johnson has not won in the season finale at Homestead-Miami because he hasn’t had to. They also point out that declining attendance and TV rating that have softened since NASCAR’s glory days are evidence that the Chase has failed to produce the compelling kind of drama that would help NASCAR compete with the NFL. 2011 produced a nail-biting finished, so did 2004, but most haven’t really had the seventh game of the World Series drama NASCAR was seeking.

NO IT DOESN’T

“The old system wasn’t all that great.” In 2003, Matt Kenseth won one race out of 36, but still won the title, thanks to 11 top five finishes and 25 in the top ten. Benny Parsons won the 1973 championship with a lone win. So did Bill Rexford (who?) in 1950. The old method of determining the champion had the feel of a long, drawn out marathon; the winners were legit, but with few exceptions there was rarely a compelling sprint to the finish.

“Even golf has a playoff, why not NASCAR?” Think about it, if use the logic that the Chase makes the first 26 race illegitimate, then the Super Bowl XLII winning New York Giants should really call the New England Patriots- undefeated in the 2007 regular season- the real champions. The 2001 New York Yankees should have let Seattle- owners of a 116-46 record represent the American League in the World Series. Think those teams would go for that? I don’t think so. A playoff adds the aspect of drama and pressure to a championship run.

“Wins AND consistency matter.” How do you become a top seed? Win the most races during the regular season. What if you win and have some really bad finishes? You get a reprieve if you can earn a wild card. What if you’re very consistent and don’t races? Maybe you can become the next Tony Stewart, peak at the right time, and win a championship. There’s still multiple paths to the championship.