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NASCAR's Championship Chase: a modest proposal

  Does NASCAR's Sprint Cup championship chase need more fireworks? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   With NASCAR's new 2010 stock car tour schedules coming out in the next few days, well, maybe we need to consider a few things.
   How about some real bling here?
   How about some more pizzazz?
   Maybe nothing needs to be tweaked.
   Maybe everything is fine as it.
   But then maybe it's time to consider shaking things up.
   Make America sit up and take notice.
   So here are some ideas for the France family -- Jim, Brian and Lesa -- to consider:
   Opening the Sprint Cup championship chase with a bang -- with the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, mid-September.
   The weather in Indiana that time of year should be dry and glorious, 76 degrees on the average.
    And running the sport's second most important race in the middle of July simply is a waste.
   The NASCAR season opens in February at Daytona....the championship chase should open at Indianapolis in September.

  Daytona should be in the chase (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  Let's put as many of the sport's best races, and most varied tracks, in the chase as we can.
    Actually there's probably a little less chance of rain in September than in late August, and the weather is certainly warmer than it is in Bristol in early spring.
   And a road course? Oh, I can hear the purists -- and David Poole -- screaming.
   But Sonoma in October is typically dry and nice, and if Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart could help track owner Bruton Smith tweak the track for more passing zones (bring back the carousel), well, San Francisco is one the country's biggest markets, and that would be a nice marketing addition to the playoffs. (While we're at it, add Montreal to the Cup tour in the late June calendar slot currently held by Sonoma.)
   Or let's think outside the box: Mexico City redux. Autodromo Hermanos Rodriquez. And let's promote it right this time. An October playoff event in one of the world's biggest cities....and it would be a nice lead-in to Los Angeles' California 500 at Auto Club Speedway, wouldn't it?
   Let's move Daytona's July Fourth 400 weekend (July is one of the rainiest months of the year there) to the chase: make it 'the restrictor plate wild card event' the first of November, much drier, but still warm.
   Make Homestead-Miami the penultimate chase race, with a heck of a lot more pressure on the drivers, instead of it simply being the coronation event.
   And close out the championship playoffs in Las Vegas...with the awards show the next evening, at, hey, Mandalay Bay or the Bellagio?
   With fireworks over the entire Vegas skyline.

  A Las Vegas championship finale? The city never sleeps.....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Reshaping NASCAR's championship chase: Mike's Take

1. Indianapolis
2. Bristol (moving New Hampshire and Dover to late August)
3. Mexico City or Sonoma (moving Kansas to early June)
4. California
5. Charlotte
6. Daytona (moving Martinsville to under-the-lights Labor Day weekend)
7. Texas
8. Phoenix
9. Homestead
10. Las Vegas


  Why not kick off NASCAR's championship chase at Indianapolis with the Brickyard 400? (Photo: IMS)

Oy, vey! Again with the road

Oy, vey! Again with the road courses?
No more road courses, please!
I'd much rather see tracks like Darlington and Richmond in the chase.
California shouldn't be in the chase, either. I know the arguements about the "LA Market", but race after race in front of half-empty grandstands should tell us that the market has rejected us.
Leave the road courses and the sleepers for mid-summer nap weekends.

Sorry, Mike, but I have to

Sorry, Mike, but I have to disagree here. The Chase's problem is not the tracks used, it's the concept. Playoff formats simply don't work in racing - racing is about winning the individual events and letting the points fall where they fall. What the Chase has done is so thoroughly corrupt the title race that it's become unrecognizable. It's never about winning, it's ONLY about best average finish, to a much greater extent than even in the last years before the concept was hoisted upon NASCAR.

Indianapolis is supposed to stand on its own as a race - no to the Chase.

Bristol is garbage, the worst oval track the sport races on - the sport needs to drop Bristol and the other short tracks altogether - this is a superspeedway league.

Road courses are even worse than Bristol - passing is all but impossible, crashes are huge - even if they change that area of Turn Nine, Watkins Glen will still bottleneck at several spots like ALL road courses do - and the result is racing that's just about keeping the car out of the sticks. The road courses need to be dropped and Mexico City should never again be in any NASCAR conversation.

Fontana - doesn't matter; it needs to be plated up, both the cars and the track.

Charlotte, Texas, Phoenix, and Homestead - doesn't matter, though Homestead hasn't done much to justify being on the Winston Cup tour.

Daytona - see Indianapolis above.

Las Vegas - overrated.

BTW, I notice Talladega is gone from the list here - what gives there?

Interesting, interesting.

Interesting, interesting. Actually I wasn't commenting on the concept of the chase -- which i'm still not sure i like, and certainly not without more points given for winning races, rather than working toward a best-average finish. I was just throwing out as food for thought the idea that some of the chase races are just boring, so let's change them up. Indianapolis in mid-July doesnt really make a lot of sense to me; it would make more sense as kickoff to the chase. every race is supposed to, in a sense, stand on its own -- the concept of championship, i feelm, is overblown, and i'd rather see the title go to the guy who simply wins the most races. and not to throw jerry gappens' new hampshire track under the bus, or dover, but those two tracks don't have the national appeal that the first race or two of the chase should have, to light the fires in america's belly. that's why i picked Indy and bristol. yes, road courses are not the best, but the san francisco market, and mexico city would be the keys there, IMHO. Let's make those tracks better, or maybe change the cars. fontana -- too fast, period. plates, maybe so. but let's cut the speeds. the slower the car, the less difference aero makes. vegas, overrated? well, most 1-1/2 mile tracks are overrated, but we've got what we've got, and vegas is a good market. i put daytona in there instead of talladega, because at daytona the crew and the car come into play, with handling, more than simple luck, like at talladega. move talladega to, hey, labor day weekend under the lights....
OBTW what 10 tracks/races would you put in the chase?

If we have to have a Chase,

If we have to have a Chase, here are my Twelve Chase Tracks -

New Hampshire

The Chase should start with the beginning of September, the traditional beginning of the season's stretch run. With Atlanta now taking over the Labor Day period, it starts there, then swings to Richmond (with Martinsville pushed back to August) and with the season's short track tour wrapped up the Chase goes through a revamped version of the old Northern Tour - NHMS, Dover, and Pocono, which is cooler in September than in August and spreads the two dates out more (a frequent gripe is that the two dates are too close to one another), and Pocono used to run the Modified Tour's biggest race in Sepetmber-early October, so that date is a viable one. From one superspeedway to another, we swing to the ultimate superoval, then swings up to the Midwest before hitting the final "home" date of the season, then dips down to Florida before heading west for Phoenix and Fontana before wrapping up in Texas, a better season wrap-up than Vegas because Texas is an actual racing demographic.

uh, hmmmmm....i really like

uh, hmmmmm....i really like the idea of the chase starting labor day weekend -- but not sure atlanta is the place.....pocono, that's pretty late in the season, isn't it, and the weather? yes, texas is a real racing demo....and that might work....i'd prefer daytona as the plate race over talladega, because talladega is too much of a crap shoot, and daytona puts more responsibility on the team....i might take exception to some of the tracks you include/exclude, but the Labor Day 12-in-12 is a good idea.

The rest of your post was

The rest of your post was lost when you said to "drop Bristol". Okay, that's just ridiculous. It's the second most anticipated race on the schedule, and until the economy hit bottom there was a waiting list for tickets. It's short-track racing at its finest, and will be a staple on the schedule for years to come, as it should be. When NASCAR "drops Bristol", NASCAR either ends or becomes the IRL.

Bristol is a strong racing

Bristol is a strong racing demographic, indeed. But it would be that way almost regardless of what kind of track it was. The waiting list of tickets was not as deep as you think it was, as the fact they had to sell tickets at 50% off showed - the economy is not bad enough that Bristol wouldn't have sold out regardless of anything else. "It's short track racing at its finest." It is? You could have said that in 1990 or 1991, but even then Bristol lagged behind the superspeedways in competitive excellence.

Bristol is good for the Nationwide Series and the Trucks; it does not belong in Winston Cup. When NASCAR dumps Bristol, some people will scream but most will accept it.

If NASCAR drops Bristol, it

If NASCAR drops Bristol, it will lose what is left of its core fan base. The racing is still as exciting there as it is anywhere. The Michifornia and Kansacago tracks are terrible. I hope that's not your idea of exciting racing.

Build me a 3/4 mile Bristol/Dover, and let's race. Build me another Nashville Fairgrounds track with better pits and better seating. It's a fun track to run with several grooves and plenty of room to pass.

The further Cup gets away from short tracks, the more they are selling their soul.

Michigan is wide enough for

Michigan is wide enough for five-abreast racing. The intermediate tracks are big tracks, which means room to race and three-wide up front up the middle (you missed that Vickers pass up the middle at Chicago, apparently).

"The further Cup gets away from short tracks, the more they are selling their soul." Cup was and always will be a SUPERSPEEDWAY league. That is the series' soul.

Bristol/Dover lack good racing - Dover has seen a couple of surprisingly good battles the last few years but it has never shown ability to sustain it.

okay, okay, so road courses

okay, okay, so road courses generally suck, i agree. but nobody has $150 million or $200 million or $250 million to build something new, so we're stuck with what we've got.
And what we've got are two points:
-- mainstream America, which understands Los Angeles is bigger than Loudon, N.H., regardless of the quality of racing;
-- racing afficiandos, who look for the quality of racing first and foremost.
How to reconcile those two? That's where 'promoters' come in. Unfortunately the number of real promoters in NASCAR these days can be counted on one hand; tracks are being run by bean counters, rather than the richard howards and humpy wheelers of the sport. And unfortunately the product we're putting on the track at some of these places isn't very good, which makes those events hard to sell. If NASCAR had a great product every Sunday, it wouldn't matter if we were running in a cornfield.
But to get the sponsors it takes to keep this thing afloat we've got to hit good markets.
So: what do you think we should do with Fontana? I can't believe that in an urban area of 24 million people we can't fill 92,000 seats.....if we had a decent show to sell them. why nascar continues to put on such a lousy show in the nation's second-largest market is beyond me.
And, sorry, but i still believe road courses can be made to work, somehow. it's just a matter of physics -- if we can get two grooves in those corners at martinsville, surely we can get two grooves at Sonoma, Watkins Glen, Montreal and Mexico City. What NASCAR needs is better promoters, better promotions, and better Sunday shows.

I'm with 'ya for the most

I'm with 'ya for the most part, Mike, with a couple of changes. Make Daytona the season ender, starting and ending the season at the anchor track. No road course, either. They are novelty races, and I don't think they belong in the Chase. Insert Richmond or Darlington where you have the road course race and that's a pretty nice Chase schedule.

road course races: i just

road course races: i just think we haven't thought through NASCAR road racing yet to its full potential. yes, i think a talladega or bristol in sonoma would be great, but california rules aren't very friendly. so san francisco/sanjose....do we do enough at sonoma to encourage camping? that would be a key part of the game plan. the carousel at sonoma made that track work; the new shunt doesnt do anything. let's widen the esses. if we can race two-wide at martinsville in the corners, we could do it at sonoma. daytona -- i think daytona needs a race under the lights...and remember daytona in july didn't even open the backstretch grandstands. Now Darlington, with that new asphalt (way too fast for these guys), could be an interesting chase race....I just wish there was a little more creative thinking on all this.

I say re-mix the tracks in

I say re-mix the tracks in the Chase every 3 years, some in, some out.

The problem with the current format (here's food for thought):

Let's say #18 & #5 somehow don't make it into the top 12 Championship run....then, let's say that these 2 teams/cars/drivers manage to combine to win all 10 of the Chase races.....it COULD happen!

NASCAR would be a laughingstock, since this would mean that (one of) the 2 drivers with the most victories for the season don't end up as winner of the Cup..

Obviously, NASCAR would, somehow, come up with a way, through race outcome manipulation or some sort of penalty assessment(s), to prevent that from ever happening.

Road course in the Chase? Sure, why not....Riverside used to be the last race of the season! But let's forget about racing in the rain unless TRACTION CONTROL is to be allowed, or the engine formula is dialed back to where the power-to-traction ratio isn't so out of whack as it is now.

The whole Cup program needs a "reset"--a clean sheet of paper, not the back of a napkin, or (dare I say) on toilet paper, which is what the current Chase reminds me of--sort of like most of the stuff going on in Washington DC.

traction control, eh? hmmm,

traction control, eh? hmmm, that might be a good solution to racing in the rain. I'm going to ask some crew chiefs and drivers about that this weekend.
and I agree -- let's reset this chase.

Let's make a win more

Let's make a win more important! then well I was able to finish in the top 15 all year I'm a champ. If a driver can't win one he does not belong in the chase! He gets the most point for runnerup so he's a champ.

Hey! You might be on to

Hey! You might be on to something here: to make the chase you have to have at least one win in the regular season. And take the top 12 who have won races. If it's not 12, well, that's the way it goes. I agree -- if you don't win in the regular season, you don't deserve to be in the chase.

I think moving Indy to the

I think moving Indy to the Chase is a good idea. I think part of the reason F1 left the US is because of how hot it is in Indy in the summer.
If they want a road race, Road Atlanta is suppose to be good...?
I read a while back where someone else suggested that the Daytona 400 should be the last race of the year. I agree. Homestead instead of Fontana...?

PS Just heard on Bret Baier evening news on Fox News Channel, 6:00p, 9/3/09, that Obama is using Nascar drivers and showed pictures of J. Gordon, Jr., Stewart and others, the drivers at the White House reception for Nascar a few weeks ago to promote his talk to the school kids next week Tuesday, 9/8/09. The same talk to ask kids how the President has inspired them and how they can help the President, the same one some parents are going to keep their kids home from so they don't hear the talk, or the follow-up workshops.

So: what do you think we

So: what do you think we should do with Fontana?
I'd put Humpy in there just to give them one more chance. However, I don't think even he could fill that place. NASCAR racing sells in Southern California like NHL hockey sells in Phoenix. Advertizers & marketing types know this. It's time NASCAR admitted it. Drop the Cali dates & give them to someone else.

Well I don't have a problem

Well I don't have a problem with the top 12 points guys getting in, that's fine. They just need to tweak the way points are given once the Chase starts.

Points shouldn't be given 1st-43rd like all season, the Chase guys should be given 1st-12th points regardless of finish, non-chase guy get 13th-43rd. That way one or two DNFs or bad finishes won't take a guy out of the Chase completely.

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