- Ryan McGee, ESPN Senior Writer
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As Jimmie Johnson's lead began to swell like a thirsty frog at the end of a stream, so did my ESPN.com inbox, flooded with e-mail suggestions from fans on how the Chase for the Cup format could be poked, pulled and altered to ensure that such yawner runaways don't occur in the future.
Some of the ideas are good ones, others are theories we've heard before, and then there are the -- how do we say this -- unique plans.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and weird and examine the pros, cons and chances that we'll ever see NASCAR make them so.
Hey Ryan, they shouldn't call the Chase NASCAR's version of the playoffs unless it's going to be a true playoff. Start with 10 teams and eliminate one car a week until there's one man standing. Or do like the PGA Tour is doing with the FedEx Cup, start with the top 35 in points and eliminate a handful a week until the end.
Wendy in Blowing Rock, N.C.
What works: Letting everyone in lets all the drivers keep their sponsors happy, the same sponsors who are increasingly asking for a Chase clause that lets them cut their payments back if their team doesn't make the current cut of an uberhyped dozen teams.
What doesn't: Ask the stars of the PGA Tour -- Tiger, Phil, Vijay, etc. -- if they understand how the FedEx Cup works and they can't tell you. All they know is that the guys who aren't them are still irrelevant. On paper the idea of letting everyone have a crack at the Cup is a good one. But in reality they aren't actually title contenders and everyone knows it. You think just because a guy like, say Robby Gordon, makes the top-35 cut for the final 10 weeks he really believes that he's running for the title?
Ryan-O, the problem is that the other 31 guys are in the way. What a joke that David Gilliland and Juan Pablo Montoya's ridiculous spat at Texas actually ended up having a bearing on the Chase standings. When the Chase begins, only the 12 guys who make the cut should be allowed to race, even if it means holding two different races over the final 10 weekends -- one for the Chasers and one for the scrubs.
Hurting in Stumptoe, Ariz.
What works: This is really what Wendy is looking for, a true contenders-only showdown for the championship. The NHRA does this in its Countdown to the Championship and it has worked very well up to this point, with dramatic weekly showdowns between would-be champions while the no-names are banished to "get 'em next year" status. It would also make it easier for stick-and-ball sports fans to understand on a more casual basis.
What doesn't: Only 12 cars on the track at once? For 500 miles at Texas? It would be like watching an IROC race stuck in the movie "Groundhog Day." Unless the races were shortened considerably so that we had ourselves a Saturday night short-track A-Main, tiny fields would never work. But who's going to pay $100 for a ticket to a race that lasts an hour?
Mr. McGee, why not clean the slate for the Chase contenders as they do now, but then also give them their own unique points system. I am a huge Formula One fan and their very tight 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 points scale would ensure that we would always have a super-tight title bout in the season finale.
Fidel in Cuba, Mo.
Clearly the idea of clinging to the points system that was devised in the early 1970s isn't working. The Chase has served its purpose in bunching up the title contenders and creating some drama, but where the points gaps between positions were long considered too small, especially between the race winner and second place, now it seems like it would be better if they were smaller. If the F1 system were being used this year a whole half-dozen teams would still be in the hunt with two races to go and anyone who has watched the crazy-close F1 bouts over the past two years certainly can't question its worth.
What doesn't: It seems more than a little unfair to make teams race with one points system for seven and a half months and then force them to change their entire mental approach for the final 10 weeks. If a new system is put into place, then it needs to be installed across the board.
There are too many cookie cutters and boring tracks in the Chase's 10 races. They need to be shuffled up to add a little more excitement and variety to the challenge of the Chase! How sick would it be to finish the season where we started it -- at Daytona!
Anonymous in Nameless, Tenn.
What works: After all the hype building up to the Chase cutoff race at Richmond, why do we start at New Hampshire and Dover? No offense to those good people, but they're not exactly Vegas and Daytona. In 2009 California joins the Chase not exactly a step in the right direction.
What doesn't: The most common argument for a schedule shuffle is that the 10 Chase races should be a better representative of the regular season, and that would mean adding a road course race. Yes, road racing is "true racing," but it is also mortifyingly boring television and NASCAR doesn't want to put Watkins Glen or Sonoma up against the NFL. Then again, it can't be any worse than Loudon and Dover again, no offense. As for a Daytona finale, there would be nothing more exciting, but teams don't want the Cup decided by a restrictor-plate race and NASCAR doesn't want its Super Bowl, the Daytona 500, overshadowed.
Yo McGee, the problem isn't what they're doing with the Chase, it's the Chase itself! Go back to the old points system the way it used to be and whoever ends up with the most points at the end wins, case closed.
Dynamite in Napoleon, N.D.
What works: This always seems like a good idea to people who are staunch believers in consistency and tradition or are simply Jeff Gordon fans.
What doesn't: Anyone who is honest with themselves about the good old days has to also be honest and admit that they weren't actually so good. You think Jimmie Johnson has stunk up the show this fall? Jeff Gordon made the final three months of three different seasons totally irrelevant, as did Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt and Matt Kenseth. In three decades with the old system only about a third of the points races were actually good ones and only a handful of those were truly memorable.
If your guy was the one cleaning up, it was great. Everyone else had already started watching football much as they started doing the same when Johnson started pulling away two weeks ago.
Ryan McGee, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, is the author of "ESPN Ultimate NASCAR: 100 Defining Moments in Stock Car Racing History." He can be reached at email@example.com.
There are many ways to "fix" the Chase, and Ryan McGee has been seeing plenty of them in his e-mail inbox. McGee runs down his five favorites, and gives the pros and cons to each.