Chase format is fine -- it's the schedule that needs changing
Shake up the Chase? Take out some cookie cutters, add a short track or two, and rethink Dega. Then the Chase is really on, writes Marty Smith.
Originally Published: November 19, 2008By Marty Smith | ESPN.com
NASCAR fans are like a Cinderella song: "Don't know what you got 'til it's gone ..."Amid the rigors of the race season it seems all who weigh in to The Six are disenchanted, frustrated by this or that NASCAR decision or ticked off at this or that race finish or miffed by this or that driver's attitude. But dang if it's not all peaches and kittens as soon as the checkers fall in Miami. Folks write in, all depressed that next Sunday falls silent. They can't wait for the green flag in Daytona, and the champagne plastered to Jimmie Johnson's Cup is only still tacky.It's human nature, I guess. One of the hardest things to do in life, regardless of context, is to truly live in the moment.The Six, postseason ... Mr. Smith, Faithful reader who you fielded a question from (pre-"The Six" days) after Daytona about Mr. Penske wearing a Hendrick hat in Victory Lane. Normally, I nod my head as I read your stuff. But I feel you partly missed the boat on your answer to Mike Hartley of Detroit last week.I agree that, no, they should not blow the Chase up over Jimmie's performance this year -- that previous Chases have not seen the same runaway supports the structure. But a realignment of the tracks could be done to minimize the risk of it occurring.Sir, as you know, half the Chase is the cookie-cutter tracks. It seems like recent history when one or two teams find the right "click" for the cookie cutters and they can't be stopped most of the year.Even if it doesn't always happen (last year, four drivers claimed the five cookie cutters), as the schedule is drafted 15 months ahead, such a shake-up would be one of the best methods for NASCAR to give itself variety and, hopefully, mix up the winners. Best of luck in the offseason.-- JB Anderson, Ottumwa, IowaFirst of all, JB, Mike complained last week about the format. The format is fine and the overall model works. Prove to me that Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson haven't been worthy victors. Oh, right. You can't. I had a guy Sunday morning at Homestead debate me on this subject, and he was all hung up on tradition, that it's unfair to reset the field and take away everything teams worked for in the first 26 weeks. Then he turned around and admitted being bored stiff in 2003 when Matt Kenseth won by 2 million points. When I broached that rebuttal, he grinned. I got him.And all anyone wants to do is compare NASCAR to other sports. Racing isn't like other sports. But OK, if that's what you want, let's try it. Is this not what happens in every other sport? A reset? The New England Patriots went 16-0 last year during the regular season -- a historic event. They didn't close the deal. Eli Manning and the Giants, a team largely considered mediocre and lucky to be there, executed when it mattered most and won a ring. Are they not worthy?
However (after all that drivel), I don't disagree that the schedule could be altered to be a bit more diverse, more representative of the overall schedule structure. During the first 26 races, there are five events on 1.5-mile tracks. (Granted, if you throw in Darlington, Michigan and Fontana, which generally have similar setup characteristics to Lowe's, there are 10.) Therefore, high-speed intermediate tracks make up somewhere between 19 and 38 percent of the "regular season," compared to 50 percent of the Chase. By comparison, speedways (Daytona/Talladega) make up 12 percent of the regular season, and 10 percent of the Chase. Short tracks are 19 percent of the regular season and 10 percent of the Chase. There's one Dover race in the first 26 and one in the Chase. Same for Phoenix. Same for Loudon. Pocono and Indy are 12 percent of the regular season, and aren't represented in the playoffs. Road courses make up eight percent of the regular season and have no Chase presence. I've long been a proponent of having a road course in the Chase. But when they make up such a minimal portion of the schedule, drivers and teams don't feel there should be one in the Chase.So ultimately, by that math, 1.5-mile tracks certainly carry greater importance in the Chase than they do in the regular season. Should they? The kicker, to me, is Talladega. The Talladega fall race is the best event of the season for fans. Love plate racing or hate it, you simply cannot deny the entertainment value. But should a race that leaves so little of a driver's fate in his own hands have that much bearing on his overall season's outcome?
AP Photo/Glenn SmithThink removing Talladega from the Chase schedule would disappoint Greg Biffle? Think again.
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