Commentary

Chase format could use a knockout blow

Updated: July 13, 2010, 6:38 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

All in or all out.

Either make the Chase what it was intended to be -- a close battle between several drivers down to the final race -- or leave it alone and live with it the way it is.

[+] EnlargeJimmie Johnson
Jerry Markland/Getty ImagesOne driver who has few complaints about the Chase format: four-time defending Cup champ Jimmie Johnson.

Or for all you retro lovers, do away with it completely. Not going to happen, but you can wish in one hand and, well … never mind.

With the exception of the first year in 2004, the Chase hasn't produced its No. 1 goal of a true fight for the championship in the last race.

An elimination system is the only way to make sure that happens. Kick drivers out as you go.

Carl Edwards, speaking last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, sees it as a simple choice.

"It just comes down to this question: Do you want the best team and driver of the year, or do you want it to be dramatic?" Edwards said.

But who's to say a true playoff with an elimination process wouldn't produce the best driver and the best team at the end?

"To me, the true way to crown a champion is who finishes best on average throughout the whole season," Edwards said.

This is how all the Chase haters feel. It's the fair way to do it, they say.

So let me ask a question: What is fair about a guy totaling the most points because he finishes seventh every week and wins once or twice over a guy who wins eight or nine times that year?

Jeff Gordon hasn't won yet this season, but he has more points than Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, who have won five times each. If Gordon won the title over them without winning a race, would that be fair?

Saying what's fair, who's the best driver or who has the best team is subjective no matter what format you use.

By the way, every other aspect of the Chase has worked. It has brought tons of attention to drivers and teams that never would have been mentioned without the playoff.

If a driver was 12th in the standings in late September in the old format, and 500 points behind, nobody cared. Under the Chase, the driver and his sponsors are important.

And don't give me that ridiculous notion of how only the Chase drivers get attention in the playoff. If you were 20th in the standings in October 1990 while running 25th in a race, you were just as insignificant then as you are now.

It just comes down to this question: Do you want the best team and driver of the year, or do you want it to be dramatic? To me, the true way to crown a champion is who finishes best on average throughout the whole season.

-- Carl Edwards

But if a driver is winning a race in October, or running near the front, he'll get plenty of attention no matter where he ranks in the standings -- playoff or no playoff.

People also claim no one would bring this up if Johnson hadn't won four consecutive Cup championships. It isn't that Johnson won four straight titles -- it's that no one challenged him for it in the end.

Traditional fans say they want to go back to the old system of the season points-total champion.

Are you OK if MLB crowns the Yankees the champion at the end the 162-game season because they won the most games? Are you OK if the Indianapolis Colts go 15-1 and earn the Lombardi Trophy, no playoffs or Super Bowl required?

Yes, yes, I've heard it all before. It's apples and oranges. That's stick-and-ball sports. This is racing. It's different.

Yes, it is. Actually, it's worse. At least the non-playoff examples above would be about winning. That's not true in a Chase-less NASCAR.

It's about scoring based on an arbitrary system of incremental points. It likes saying the San Diego Chargers are the NFL champs because they scored the most points all season.

Or look at it this way: The New Orleans Saints will win the Super Bowl as long as they play within 30 points of the New England Patriots, because their lead going into the big game is that big.

That's what the season finale is in Cup, even with the Chase.

An elimination format would mean the eventual champion had to earn it at the end, just like the champion has to do in every other major sport.

But winning would need to be factored into the knock-out process. Otherwise, you have the same problem in a shorter version -- a driver earning the most points in a 10-race playoff without winning a race.

If the Chase is going to change again, do it right. Show some guts.

Make it a true playoff system in which competitors are eliminated along the way or don't do anything. Don't insert little changes again, such as adding drivers or slightly restructuring the points.

Don't go halfway. All in or all out.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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