NASCAR + Playoffs = Doesn’t Work

Johnson has taken advantage of a contrived system. Can you blame him?

After race number five of the 2010 Chase for the Championship in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Jimmie Johnson seems destined to win a fifth consecutive championship. Johnson is one of three drivers to have won a championship under NASCAR’s playoff system implemented in 2004 (Kurt Busch ’04, Tony Stewart ’05). As he continues rolls from championship to championship, NASCAR fans are getting ever more fed up in this contrived system designed to create a more intense championship battle. NEWSFLASH: It hasn’t done that. With only Talladega really standing in Johnson’s way of an improbable fifth consecutive championship, debate continues on whether or not NASCAR should change their “Chase.”

Jamie McMurray is proving how playoffs don't work in NASCAR

The only change worthy of making at this point is completely abandoning it at this point. It would take some pride to swallow on the end of Brian France and other NASCAR head honchos, but it would go a long way in regaining ground lost over the past several seasons. Why does NASCAR not need a playoff system? It simply doesn’t work here. When there are 31 other guys racing on the same track as the playoff contenders, a playoff system simply cannot thrive. But why is this? It’s because it’s too easy to compare to what could have happened. “Under the old points system,” “If he had made the Chase he’s be,” yaddah yaddah yaddah. I’ll take Jamie McMurray for example: If he had made the Chase, he’d currently be 4th in points only 87 out of the lead. If they still raced under the “old system,” he’d have moved up to 11th. But he actually sits 13th in points right now.

There are just too many loopholes in any type of playoff system that NASCAR would implement. Many people have the idea that Jeff Gordon should have six championships while Jimmie Johnson would still have two. If Jimmie Johnson would have won four consecutive championships under the old format, he would be more respected in the history of NASCAR. Instead, many consider there to be an asterisk by that number 4 (or 5). It’s simply not right that a team can seemingly disregard over 2/3 of a season to wind up being on even footing with those who have performed all year long. Kevin Harvick should be well on his way to a championship, but instead he finds himself 77 points back as opposed to being over 200 ahead. Thanks to a playoff system that simply doesn’t work in our sport, true champions are turned down while sculpted champions are crowned.

While I would completely drop the Chase, I would not leave the individual race point system stay the same. This is where all individual races would be  equally important, but a driver would not be able to cruise to a championship without a battle. I discussed my idea of a point system in a previous post, but I have dropped a “Chase” format from this. This point system would be designed to make wins and top 5s more important than they currently are while adding drama to the season long standings at the same time.

My point system would go as follows (leaving bonus points as they are currently awarded) :

Race winner: 300 points

2nd place: 250

3rd place: 225

4th place: 200

5th place: 175

6th-43rd: These point values would remain the save

This system would place a much needed emphasis on winning and running up front, rather than riding around picking up 10th-15th place finishes for “good points days.” While making each race equally important, it would be much tougher to win a championship without winning and winning often. NASCAR was built on consistency and winning, and this system would do just that. This system would also make DNF’s not as detrimental. Of course DNF’s are never good in racing, but at least they wouldn’t be insurmountable.

Using this point system would still offer some shades of “if they raced under the original point system,” etc, but at least it wouldn’t be under the same circumstances as a contrived “playoff” system designed to lure audiences away from football. I have one more NEWSFLASH for you: That hasn’t happened either. Ratings have tanked and attendance of the races have been pitiful. The fans have spoken and it’s understood that the Chase hasn’t worked. NASCAR needs to go back to basics as they mentioned a few years ago by going back to crowning a season long champion while awarding more points for winning races. I believe that adjusting the point system along these lines would go a long way to giving fans what they want.

NASCAR needs to stop the bleeding and there are things that can be done to help. Kill the chase and award those who win and consistently run up front, rather than cater to those who run 10th-15th. Races then become more important and a championship has merit once again. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, and beating the best should involve winning and running up front consistently.

Imagine having a 100 point lead going into the final race of the season. Rather than simply needing a 20th place or so finish to clinch, you would need to finish fourth to truly clinch. This opens the floodgates for drama late in the season and allows for a naturally more exciting championship battle without manufacturing it. NASCAR is about season long consistency and winning races. Having a playoff system doesn’t accomplish that, but this would.

We can only hope that 2010 is the last time we hear about the "Chase."

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