Chase format is a gimmick, but a wildly popular one

Oct 27 2011 - 7:44pm

There are a lot of different ways to remember the 2011 fall race at Talladega Superspeedway.

One can choose to look at last Sunday's event as yet another installment of "Let's Make A Deal." Or perhaps the better title for this motorsports game show is "Let's Break A Deal."

Drivers work together, drivers promise to help each other, drivers change plans without alerting their partners, then whining ensues.

Despite rule changes implemented in an effort to break up two-car tandems, two-car tandems ruled the day until the last lap dictated that it was every man for himself.

Or, you can mark the race as the one that unofficially served as the ouster of Jimmie Johnson as the five-time champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

With only four races to go in the Chase, Johnson is in seventh place in the standings and trails leader Carl Edwards by 50 points.

Johnson won't make that deficit up. Yes, it's possible in theory and mathematically, but in reality you can forget about it.

The 2011 championship will be settled between Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick.

If you like to stay connected with tradition, the fact that Richard Childress Racing recorded its 100th victory on Sunday makes this 500-miler memorable.

Childress has a special place in the hearts of Talladega race fans because of his affiliation with the late Dale Earnhardt, so Clint Bowyer's checker on Sunday was a popular one among many in attendance.

However, Bowyer's win is what I'll remember the race for. It reminds me of how after all these years, I still can't embrace the Chase.

It's nothing against Bowyer, of course. He's a good driver and deserves to be congratulated for being the last man standing at this high-banked monster.

But the Chase is designed to crown a champion, and a driver who isn't even in the playoffs won what amounts to a "playoff game."

"Yeah," some say, "But NASCAR is different than stick and ball sports."

I agree -- so why must it mimic stick and ball sports with a postseason?

Was it really so bad back in the day when the driver who accumulated the most points after 36 races was considered the champion?

The only way to make the Chase a "real" playoff would be to have just 12 drivers on the track, and that wouldn't work.

Obviously having a driver who didn't qualify for the Chase win a Chase race doesn't concern NASCAR officials, or hundreds of thousands of fans who seem to like the system just fine.

And truth be told it doesn't really concern me, either - Chase or no Chase, I'm going to sleep just fine at night.

Even so, the Chase is still a gimmick to me. It's a successful gimmick, to be sure, and the pilot who best negotiates the 10 races at the end of the season is a worthy champion.

But the pilot who best negotiated a season's worth of races before the Chase was invented was a worthy champion, too.

No gimmicks, no redistribution of points, just one race on top of another, each one counting the same.

I miss that.

 

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