Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

What to expect in NASCAR's playoffs? This fall...and in 2011? Are changes really brewing?

  Carl Edwards has a lot on his mind this season, with wife Kate and new daughter Anne. But he hasn't let it affect his work out on the track. He's got the best finishing record in NASCAR over the summer. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   With the race to make the NASCAR championship chase all but devoid of any drama the past few weeks, particularly coming into Saturday's regular season finale here, speculation is increasing about what NASCAR might do to pump up next season's playoffs.
   NASCAR's Brian France in July raised the possibility of some big changes in next season's chase format, and he's been considering various options.
   One possibility appears to be a series of playoff cuts during the chase, to winnow the field of title contenders.
   For example, two such cuts within the playoffs – say, mid-way through the 10-race chase, and just after the next-to-last tour event, at Phoenix in mid-November – could have the top five drivers after Race 35 of the 36-race tour 're-zeroed' in points for the series' finale at Homestead.
   Greg Biffle, for one, says he'd be open to whatever NASCAR might decide.
   Under a last race 'winner-takes-all' format among those five coming out of Phoenix:
   -- Kurt Busch, not Jimmie Johnson, would have won the 2009 title;
   -- Carl Edwards, not Johnson, the 2008 title;
   -- and Jeff Gordon, not Johnson, the 2007 title.
   Of course that assumes that those final races would have gone just as they did....
   But clearly that would make both the Phoenix and Homestead races much more important. (Both tracks, it should be pointed out, are owned by the France family's International Speedway Corp.).
   And there is also speculation about a possible NFL-type area blackout of TV, raised once by track mega-owner Bruton Smith. The National Football League allows such area blackouts if a game isn't sold out within 72 hours of the kickoff.
   Of course part of Smith's thinking about that, apparently, was that TV networks themselves might be willing ante up for any unsold tickets in order to keep from losing viewers to such a blackout.
   Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya and Carl Edwards were fastest in Friday afternoon's opening practice for Saturday night's Richmond 400.
    "I think the race will be a struggle to find grip," Edwards says. "But this is a fun weekend, because we're locked in (to the chase), and we can just go out and race for the win."
    And there is the 'crazy' factor, in each race, Edwards says: "There is a point in each race where a switch flips and everybody just goes all or nothing.
     "The first time I felt that was in 2005 -- the last restart of that race in Atlanta. I started in the lead and Jimmie was on the outside and blew by me on the first corner. He was driving at a whole different level.
      "Sometimes (this season), if you have multiple restarts, you will have one guy go ballistic down into the corner and move everyone out of the way...and you will see like little light bulbs over everybody's cockpit -- and they will say 'Oh, let's race like that.'
      "At a place like Richmond, that is going to happen easier. Combine that with the fact that so many guys have nothing to lose, it is going to be a pretty wild race."
   Edwards, who has been in a few scrapes this season, says he doesn't quite know what to expect in the chase, as far as paybacks and rivalries go.
  "Who knows? It has been so wild this year and each race is so different," Edwards says.
   "The wild thing about this chase is there are really 14 guys that could win the championship in this garage. I can't pick a favorite....
   "And I don't think you can say which rivalries are going to build.
      "I think this is going to be the best Chase we have ever had."
   Yes, there is the Jimmie Johnson factor to consider, Edwards concedes. "You guys know how those guys perform, and what they are capable of. 
   "But I do believe the gaps between teams have narrowed and it is really anybody's championship.
    "I believe -- more than ever -- this championship will be defined by bad days.
    "There will be a number of teams that run very well...and the difference will be 'bad' days. It might not be how many races you win or how well you run."
     "For me the big unknown is Charlotte.
     "Obviously Talladega and Martinsville are going to be one and two on the bottlenecks. Those are races you have to make it through.
    "But for my team I think it is Charlotte. We have run really well there, and we have run really terribly there.
    "I feel the way we've run at Dover, and the way (teammates) Kasey (Kahne) and AJ (Allmendinger) ran at New Hampshire, and the way our 1-1/2-mile program has been, we are set to run really well."
   Still, Edwards remains winless since November 2008....
   However Edwards has the best average finishes over the past several weeks, and he calls "the previous eight or nine races very good. If the next 11 are as good, we feel we have a car that can win every one of those chase races.  
    "That is a far cry from where we were six months ago.
   "I used to laugh at people who talked about momentum....but if this is momentum, I hope we can keep riding it."
    Over the year's 25 races so far, in fact, only tour points leader Kevin Harvick has a better finishing average – 9.8, to Edwards' 12.0
   Other top average finishers: Jeff Gordon, 12.10; Matt Kenseth, 12.52; Jeff Burton 12.64; Tony Stewart, 12.84; Kyle Busch, 12.92; Kurt Busch, 14.24; Greg Biffle, 14.68; Jimmie Johnson, 14.92; Clint Bowyer, 15.0; and Denny Hamlin, 15.72.
    Other numbers to consider – miles led: Johnson leads in that category, with 1,384. Edwards, on the other hand, led only six laps in the year's first 24 races; he did lead 32 at Atlanta, but he's still far behind his title rivals. Gordon has led 1,068 miles; Kurt Busch, 1,030; Hamlin, 1,025; and Kyle Busch, 967.
   "When you have cars that you can't lead races with, then it takes really good decisions by the crew chief and really good pit stops and good decisions by the driver to build as many points as we have built," Edwards said.
    But then Edwards had a very stout car last weekend at Atlanta: "If we can have cars like that, we are ready to do some serious good things on the race track."
    And what does Edwards think about Johnson's chances for a fifth title?
   "You just never know about those guys," Edwards said.
   "I told Jimmie, once after winning one of those championships, 'Jimmie, there was a point this season that I really felt sorry for you, as rough a time as you were having...and here you win the title.'"
   And his thoughts about changing the playoffs? "How this chase goes I think will determine what NASCAR does," Edwards says.
    "But NASCAR is in tough position right now, PR-wise, (and may need to make a 2011 playoff rules decision sooner rather than later), because if they don't change it right away, then it looks like it is a reaction to something that may happen this chase. Which I don't think they would do anyway.
    "My opinion is you should just take the points and the rules and lock it in stone for a certain number of years. That will lend credibility to it.
     "If you keep changing it, it is hard to believe that 'this is the champion and deserves to be champion.'"
    Of course the chase playoff format has been essentially the same since 2004.

Still Not Getting It

NASCAR still isn't getting it.

1 - Re-zeroing the top five in the Chase to make the last two races takes an already-artificial format and makes it more so. It keeps drivers who objectively do not belong in contention for the championship in the game. This is the fundamental corruption of competitive integrity that the Chase has hoisted on the sport.

2 - Edwards' point about the Chase being defined by bad days illustrates what's really wrong with the whole concept - the championship is supposed to be determined by PERFORMANCE, not mediocrity. Wins and laps led backed by additional top-tens are supposed to define the championship, not bad days.

3 - Blackouts to force the networks to buy out remaining tickets is stupidity squared - the networks are already overcharged on rights fees and the sport's issue is that spending has to be cut. The reality is tracks need to accept non-sellouts.

4 - Returning to point #2, it's about LEAD CHANGES. Give us back 50-lead change racing and we'll come back to the tracks.

The Case and changes.

To be perfectly honest all I've seen from the Chase is that some of the drivers have gone into points racing during the regular season. Winning is less important than making the Chase.

I will be in Las Vegas for the celebrations but as far as the Chase is concerned I have better things to do with my time than to watch. I would be happy with a 30 race season and the driver with the most points wins, as long as they weigh the points to make winning the main reason for racing.

You can't convince me that a driver like Bowyer, after all these years with one of the prime teams, only has 2 wins but has made the Chase as many years as he has, isn't just racing for points. I like the guy but the way he races all he ever will be is an also-ran in the Chase. And I don't mean to pick on him because he isn't the only driver doing it.

Nascar will continue to have problems as long as they put more wheight to gathering points over wins.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com