Commentary

Where's the drama? Well, you won't find it in the Chase for the Sprint Cup

The Chase was supposed to add a little playoff buzz during NASCAR's stretch run to Homestead-Miami. Someone forget to tell that to Jimmie Johnson, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: October 28, 2008, 12:25 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

As everyone now can see, the Chase is not boredom-proof. There isn't a guaranteed fix, but more points for winning would help.

With four races to go, Jimmie Johnson has a commanding lead in the standings, something the playoff format was designed to avoid. Hey, even the World Series is a four-game sweep sometimes.

Barring a crash or an engine failure, Johnson will tie Cale Yarborough's record and win his third consecutive Sprint Cup title. Johnson might do the unthinkable and clinch the title before the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

A driver can make up 161 points in one race on another driver in the race, or 195 points on a driver not competing in an event. If Johnson adds 46 points to his lead, he can officially clinch the title before the last race.

No drama, no buzz, no race to the Chase.

This is not a knock on the Chase. Most of the time, the playoff format will produce a tighter championship battle with more drivers involved.

Not this time. The old full-season points system would have a slightly closer gap between Johnson and the second-place spot than the Chase has now.

Carl Edwards would be 113 points behind Johnson. The Chase format has Greg Biffle second, 149 points back. Jeff Burton is third, 152 behind, and Edwards is 198 points back.

But a winner bonus is the tweak to the format that could make things closer. Let's say, for example, that each winner received a 50-point bonus on top of what he now earns.

In this case, it wouldn't decrease the gap from first to second. Johnson's two Chase victories would give him 100 more points, as would Biffle's two wins.

Biffle would remain 149 points behind. Burton would lose ground since he has only one Chase victory, placing him 202 points back. Edwards, who is winless in the Chase, would fall 298 points behind Johnson.

On paper, it doesn't look so hot. However, the Chasers would have a better chance of catching Johnson in this format than they do now.

As long as Johnson finishes in the top 10 for the next four races, he's almost uncatchable. If he finishes fifth every week, Johnson is mathematically uncatchable unless Biffle wins all four races, leads the most laps and Johnson doesn't lead a lap.

Not going to happen. But with 50 bonus points for winning, a driver could make up 111 points on Johnson in one race if Johnson finished 10th. He would make up at least 80 points if Johnson finished fifth.

Of course, this could have a reverse effect. If Johnson wins one or two of the last four races, his lead would widen dramatically.

That's OK. If you win, you deserve it. But it's always good to have more emphasis on winning.

Here's another example of how it could improve things:

The way it is now, if Biffle and Burton went to the final race 55 points behind Johnson, they could win the race at Homestead and still lose the championship if Johnson finished eighth or better.

But they would win the title by winning the race if a victory included a 50-point bonus. The winner would finish at least 60 points ahead of the second-place finisher even if the runner-up led the most laps.

No system is perfect, but adding points for winning is the right move. It gives the Chasers a better chance to catch up, or it gives the leader a chance to clinch the title by winning races instead of just avoiding trouble.

Qualifying takes a backseat
Qualifying has become NASCAR's unwanted stepchild. For the second consecutive race and the ninth time this season, qualifying was rained out last weekend at Martinsville.

NASCAR can't control the weather, but it can make a better effort to get in qualifying by rescheduling the session the next day.

Martinsville had no track activity scheduled Saturday until 10 a.m. The gates opened at 8 a.m. Why not have qualifying at 8 a.m. Saturday? At the very least, allow the go-or-go-homers to make qualifying laps.

This isn't brain surgery. Just line up the cars and let them make two laps whenever the track is dry.

Any small advantage the Chase contenders could have earned on Johnson was over when NASCAR canceled qualifying Friday, placing Johnson on the pole and giving him the best pit stall for the race.

It doesn't make much difference at many tracks, but where you start and where you pit is a big deal on the Martinsville short track. So the non-Chasers also got the short end of things, automatically starting behind the 12 playoff drivers.

For Sterling Marlin and Derrike Cope, it meant packing up and going home without a chance to earn a spot in the field.

Jayski.com reports that nine rainouts for qualifying are the most since 1959. If qualifying means so little to NASCAR, why do it at all?

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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