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Suggested Chase tweaks ignore fact it's working

10/12/2006

I went on the scariest trip of my life recently -- and that includes the time I (an Asian-Indian) visited Martinsville Speedway the weekend after Sept. 11 and was detained for carrying a copy of The Charlotte Observer and a three-volume set of Smokey Yunick's book (but that's a whole other story). This trip was to a place where closed-mindedness is a sport and "Talk before listening" is a motto. This was a trip to the message boards.

There's once again a fuss surrounding NASCAR's points system, which really isn't odd because it seems to me that there always has been something wrong with the points system -- at least in some fans' minds. Someone always has found the fatal flaw in whatever system NASCAR has run. What's the matter this time?

Other people's wrecks, Chase contenders' problems. That has been the story of this season's Chase, and to some extent each of the two previous seasons, and it has folks wondering how the Chase for the Nextel Cup can be tweaked for improvement.

Bottom line: It can't. If you don't like it, go back to the old points system. Which, in my opinion, isn't a bad idea.

Here's a sampling of the complaints I found in chat-room hell (amid the myriad death threats Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans have posted for Brian Vickers -- classy).

Some have asked that winners get extra points to ensure the winningest drivers make the playoffs. They point to the top of the rankings, where a four-time winner trails a one-time winner in the standings. They point to the fact that the winningest driver, Kasey Kahne with five victories, is ninth in the standings. They point to the fact that six of the racers in the Chase have fewer wins than Tony Stewart, who missed the cut.

Who cares? The winningest never has been the most rewarded. The most consistent has always taken home the spoils. In fact, the last time the winningest driver won the title was 2001. That was under the old points system and that's because the winningest driver, Jeff Gordon, also happened to be the one most consistently among the top five and top 10.

Wins aside, another camp believes that having one bad day shouldn't cost a driver so dearly. Why not? Championship teams always have had bad days, they've just bounced back from that. Why make it easier for those who come later? Why not demand excellence -- which means if you DNF (did not finish) one day, you had damn well better win to make up for it. After all, Stewart won the 2002 title after compiling a dismal eight DNFs.

Still others clamor for a separate Chase drivers scoring system, assuring each of top-10 points, or something of that sort, to guard against non-Chase contenders wrecking a Chaser's championship dreams. Isn't the point of running the race to see who's the best and who's second-best, and so on and so forth? Sure, often the best car won't win. But isn't the reason we root for race car drivers because we think they can get the best out of their cars -- doing what they can to avoid wrecks or avoid putting themselves in position to be wrecked?

Last weekend's Big One was not Gordon's fault. Still, he shouldered the blame for being in the wrong spot at the wrong time. As well he should have. Putting the Chase drivers on a separate points system is just the first step toward running them in a different race entirely. Fine, do it. Just don't call it Cup racing.

Still others are hung up on Gordon and Earnhardt missing last year's Chase and Stewart missing this year's. They want exemptions for -- I don't know -- drivers they like the most? Please. When two or three drivers run away with the points system, there's clamor for parity. Well, now there's parity. Deal with it and celebrate it. Gordon and Junior made the cut this season. Neither is within the top five or 100 points of the leader.

A loosening here. A tightening there. It's like creating a whole new points system -- which, of course, the Chase itself was supposed to be.

I, for one, was fine with the old system. I get the intrigue of the Chase. There are five drivers within 51 points, and there was a record audience for the Richmond race that featured 11 drivers vying for just 10 "playoff" spots. But it's manufactured drama. With it comes unintended consequences -- like creating a sport where someone undeserving of the "playoffs" can have a bigger impact on it than some who actually made the cut.

But I'm fine with it. Everyone knows how points will be doled out at the beginning of the season (which is more than anyone can say for knowing how points will be deducted!). Everyone has the same challenges: run up front to avoid getting caught in amateur wrecks, build good cars, find speed, finish up top. And everyone will approach each race the same, no matter what the points system (they really do want the trophy).

I say shut up and watch. Or don't watch, but still shut up. Has anyone stopped to look at that five-driver, 51-point cluster at the top? In descending order, there's a guy many, including himself, feared to be washed up; a brokenhearted veteran who has fallen one spot short four times and is giving it his last try; a guy whose only title is considered by some to be less than deserved because he won only once -- prompting the current Chase system in the first place; a rookie; and a guy who is vying for a sweep of Busch and Cup titles.

Manufactured drama or not, that's fun to watch.

Rupen Fofaria is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at rupenisracin@yahoo.com.