The Chase is Ruining NASCAR, but There's a Fix

NASCAR wanted to make the final 10 races mean something. Unfortunately, the end result has been 26 races that don’t mean squat.

nascar empty seats
Attendance, ratings and interest have tumbled across the board for NASCAR in recent years and there are many reasons why. The drivers are less interesting. The driving is less exciting. The rules are confusing. The sport’s leaders seem out of touch and out of tune.

The start to the 2016 season has put forth much of the same, with inane controversies popping up on a weekly basis. One week, it was the ridiculous fining of Tony Stewart for saying that tires shouldn’t be loose on race cars – he was right, by the way. The next week, it was concern over plate racing at Talladega.

In most sports, controversy drives ratings. In NASCAR, it has had the opposite effect. Since NASCAR moved to Fox in 2001, ratings have never been this low. There is a greater problem here.

That greater problem is the Chase for the Cup and NASCAR’s insistence on forcing the season ending races to combat the blunt force of the NFL. While other sports such as the PGA and IndyCar have vacated the premises in autumn, NASCAR presses on against America’s #1 spectator sport. It hasn’t been pretty.

The Chase for the Cup has rarely captured the public’s imagination. A new format that introduced more eliminations increased the intensity and quality of those races, but the fans have not flocked to televisions to watch them.

While the new format is working on the quality end, the quantity of drivers entered is too much. There are now 16 drivers who make the Chase and you guarantee a berth with a win. Yes, that means there are several drivers already locked into the playoffs months before it starts.

Imagine if the Patriots clinch a playoff berth with a victory in Week 1. Would a fan be inclined to pay much attention to next 15 games before the playoffs?

That’s exactly the scenario plaguing NASCAR, as the “regular season” drags on without pressure placed on the top drivers. We know who the top drivers are and we know they will battle for the Cup in October and November. What’s the point of the next six months?

The beauty of the pre-Chase setup of NASCAR is similar to the regular season interest in European soccer or college football – each race meant everything. For Jimmie Johnson, the rest of the 2016 regular season doesn’t mean much at all.

Interestingly, the PGA Tour, which institute a similar playoff system, has not faced this problem. For one, the major events still carry prestige that cannot be overcome by the FedEx Cup. Secondly, the sport didn’t radically alter its schedule – the Tour Championship always existed, they merely changed how players qualify for it.

The Chase, on the other hand, reconfigured the entire season and fans are rejecting it. The notion that 26 races are somehow less important than 10 other races run counter to  NASCAR’s heritage.

Are you really going to tell me that an October race in Chicago is more important than the Daytona 500 or Coca-Cola 600?

There is an easy fix that combats the biggest issue of a regular season that feels meaningless.

For starters, the number of people who make the Chase needs to be drastically reduced. I thought even 10 was pushing it, but that is far superior to 16. Ideally, 8 would be a perfect number to really crank up the pressure from the Daytona 500 through the fall.

The second part is to reduce the number of Chase races because 10 is too many. Instead, four or five is a perfect number. That way, the playoffs are condensed to a month and not dragged out the entire football season. A reduced playoff field will keep the intensity level high in early fall and the reduction of Chase races will ratchet up those races even further.

NASCAR is in a perilous situation. They need to do something, and they need to do something now.

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  1. the chase isn't the only issue. The racing is simply boring. I love the description "195 mph commuting." Watching Kyle Busch lead a high speed parade on both saturday and sunday where there is so little passing is simply not keeping my attention. We can pretty much assume at this point that either a JGR or Kendrick team is going to win and have 3 other top ten cars. These are the most wealthy teams and that makes for boring racing. Whether they have Toyota or Chevrolet stickers on the car does not matter...without the stickers they are the same car.
    I would limit the amount of cars a racing team can have entered in each series to no more than 2. I would limit the amount of series a driver can race in to one. I would keep the rules simple and not change the rules over every crash. It used to be twice as heavy, half the tires = excitement. Now its more exciting to watch dashcam videos of people driving to work, because thats not so contrived.


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