I have never been a big fan of NASCAR’s Chase playoff format. I believe that a sport where a field of athletes compete on a field of play and only one player wins out of an entire field, there needs to be a point system. In sports like golf and auto racing, winning an individual event is a testament to being the best that weekend, but consistently being at the top of the leaderboard is a testament to being the best for an entire season.
A playoff system works when the entire sport is based on two teams playing each other and one wins and one loses. After a “regular season”, the best teams play each other to decade a winner. This format sometimes does not crown the best team, as the 2007 New England Patriots will attest to; but it is fair and it is a format that is similar to the individual matchups.
Historically, in NASCAR, there was an entire disconnect between a race winner and season winner. To win a race, was in and of itself, a major accomplishment; today, it is simply a means to an end. The season champion was supposed to crown the most consistent driver for the season — as a driver that has 8 wins has already been “rewarded” for those wins with a nice check and trophy; whereas often times, a season championship will only win a race or two, but will easily lead the entire field in Top 5’s and Top 10’s. That was the point of the season championship.
That has all changed now. This is not the year to make an argument against the Chase, however. While Jimmie Johnson only wins 2 of his 5 titles under the same format that made Jeff Gordon, Richard Petty, and Dale Earnhardt legends, the performance that Tony Stewart put forth
this season during the playoff part of their season schedule is deserving of something.
The best racer this year was Carl Edwards, last year it was Kevin Harvick, in 2009 it was five-time, in 2008 it was Carl Edwards, and in 2007 it was Jeff Gordon (the first time under the 36-race schedule that a driver had 30 or more Top 10s and did not win a championship). But knowing the rules they were playing under, Stewart came in and won half of the “playoff” races to win by a tiebreaker and so (unlike the JJ titles) I’m not going to say anything negative about THIS SEASON’S Chase.
Petty would have only won 4 titles under the Chase, Earnhardt would only have won 5, Alan Kulwicki would not be a champion, and Kyle Petty would be a champion (from the season 1992 season). To drastically alter your sports history like this is unpredecented and I cannot even draw a correlation to another sport. Baseball is getting there by adding more and more teams, and having more and more playoff records getting broken.
We are seeing this trend in college basketball (from 64 to 96 teams becoming more and more probable) and in college football (from polling to the BCS). To rightfully crown a champion, it is important to stay true to the sport. In football, a playoff system also works because the Carolina Panthers cannot get in the way of the Green Bay Packers when they play the New York Giants in the playoffs. In a playoff system, only the teams involved should be on the playing field. To allow a part-time driver get in the way of championship drivers is simply not fair. But crowning a champion after 36 races under a consistent point format makes every race and every driver and every action that happens simply a part of the game.
This is my very quick and very basic argument I’ve been making against NASCAR for almost ten years. The argument applies to what we are seeing in college football for the last 15 years, and this year the BS of the BCS could result in a ludicrous champion. I will write about my reasons why in the next post.