News & Media

More Chases, more fun as this season has shown

September 05, 2011, Joe Menzer,

With the focus on the wild cards on the Cup side, it's time to spread the joy

Even the torrential rains of Tropical Storm Lee could only slow, not completely stall, the momentum of buildup to this year's Chase.

You want drama? There has been plenty.

"As for all the others further down in the standings of the two junior series, they're already pretty much forgotten. If they were battling for wild-card spots to qualify for a Chase, on the other hand, they would be the centers of interesting sub-plots and would still be technically in the mix of the championship hunt."


Most of it in the past several weeks leading into the final two races before the Chase cutoff has centered around the mad scramble for the two wild-card berths added to the Chase scenario just this season. Heading into this Tuesday's rescheduled race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Saturday night's regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway, there is the added element of Tony Stewart, who sits 10th in points, trying to fend off the hard-charging Brad Keselowski, who is 11th.

If Keselowski can somehow make up the 21-point deficit over the final two races, it changes everything. Then there is Stewart, who loves the Atlanta track. He knows a win, which would be his first of the year and a repeat of his inaugural 2010 win (he then went on to win again in Fontana), could still help transform what thus far has been a hard-luck season into one to remember for his No. 14 Chevrolet team.

There are a number of other developments to watch over the final two races, as Clint Bowyer claws to get into the Chase and others, such as Denny Hamlin, Paul Menard and even David Ragan fight to make certain they're still part of the wild-card conversation -- depending on where Keselowski winds up and if, at least for Menard or Ragan, they can pull magic out of a hat and win one of the next two races.

Triple the fun?

All of which begs the question: if it has been this much fun following the Chase qualifying scenarios in Cup, why not triple the enjoyment and soon introduce Chase-type playoff formats in NASCAR's other two national touring series?

It has been discussed and rejected previously by the governing body, but perhaps the time has come to give it more serious consideration. After much debate, it now appears going to the new system this year in which drivers were forced to declare one -- and only one -- series in which they would compete for a championship is working as intended.

This has helped increase the public exposure of younger drivers in the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series ranks. But really, under their current points format, who is left to compete for the championships in those series as the season winds down?

With eight events left in the 34-race Nationwide Series season, it's beginning to look like a two-man battle between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler, who currently trails Stenhouse by 13 points. It's too early to completely rule out Reed Sorenson (currently third, but down 40 points), Aric Almirola (fourth, down 64) or even Justin Allgaier (fifth, down 69). But realistically, their hopes for a title are slim at best now -- and anyone south of them in the standings is pure toast.

With eight races left in the 25-race Truck season, the battle at the top is tighter. James Buescher currently holds the lead, but Johnny Sauter (down 12 points), Timothy Peters (down 14) and Austin Dillon (down 17) all are in hot pursuit while occupying second through fourth in the standings, respectively. Then there is a dropoff to Ron Hornaday in fifth place (48 points behind Buescher), although he's coming off a win at Atlanta and is such a wily veteran that no one should rule him out just yet.

As for all the others further down in the standings of the two junior series, they're already pretty much forgotten. If they were battling for wild-card spots to qualify for a Chase, on the other hand, they would be the centers of interesting sub-plots and would still be technically in the mix of the championship hunt.

What it could mean?

A change to the format would impact more than just one season -- and as everyone knows, each season is different. What this year has taught us in Cup is that the wild-card format is a smash hit. It has kept people talking all season long. It has been exciting and interesting, and it has placed an important emphasis on winning races like never before.

So why not expand the deal to the other two series?

To increase the attention to all three series, NASCAR still could roll out the Cup Chase to much fanfare before all the others. This would ensure the top dog was still feeding at the biggest trough, getting the most public attention.

Then, with a few minor schedule tweaks, it could roll out the Nationwide Chase a week later. Make it an eight-race Chase with 10 drivers qualifying, including the top eight in points and two wild cards. Can you imagine what this might mean in terms of publicity next season if Danica Patrick makes the Chase or is battling for one of the wild-card spots? The Nationwide Series would garner more national attention than it has in years.

The Truck Series, with its much shorter schedule, could introduce its Chase a couple weeks later. Perhaps make it a six-race Chase with only eight drivers qualifying (six on points and two wild cards). Suddenly the series with what often has some of the most exciting racing would be given new shelf life at a point in its season when oftentimes it becomes an afterthought.

One thing the Chase has taught us is that it rarely manufactures the fantastic finishes to seasons that everyone always hopes for. But the fact of the matter is that it isn't always about that, and never has been.

It's also been about generating interest in who makes the Chase and who doesn't. And then about all the sub-plots that develop once the Chase commences. A fantastic finish in the final race is a bonus worth shooting for, but never guaranteed.

All of which generally has been good stuff -- and as far as the former goes, it's never been better than this season with the wild-card element added. Isn't it time to more seriously consider multiplying the fun for the fans?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.