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Retro Racing: Stability, consistency key to long-term success

September 09, 2011, Mark Aumann,

How Chase participation, champions stack up to playoffs in other sports leagues

Jimmie Johnson's run of five consecutive Cup Series championships has been favorably compared to the dynasties of the New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens and Boston Celtics. But from a standpoint of the contemporary playoff structure in the other four major professional sports, Johnson better matches up with the Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Red Wings.

Why? Because like the No. 48 Chevrolet team, each of those franchises hasn't missed a playoff appearance in their respective sports since the Chase format was added in 2004.

Equal success?

Since the Chase began in 2004, the NBA leads the major sports leagues in number of different playoff teams. The NHL is the only league which hasn't had a repeat champion during that time (Note: The 2004-05 NHL season was canceled due to a lockout).

The chart below depicts the different number of playoff teams/drivers since 2004, how many have made the playoffs each year, different number of champions, and repeat champs through 2011.


Where Johnson has the decided advantage is in winning consecutive titles. The NBA is perhaps the only league that comes close, as two teams have repeated as champions since the 2003-04 season -- the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers -- with the Lakers the only team to win back-to-back titles (the Spurs won their two championships in a three-year span).

The Pittsburgh Steelers are the only NFL team since 2005 to have won two Super Bowl trophies. The past six World Series have been won by six different teams, and eight different franchises have hoisted the NHL's Stanley Cup since 2002.

Two of the keys to long-term success in any sport are stability and consistency. And this year's Chase field is a perfect example. Barring any unusual occurrences at Richmond -- and in a season in which the unexpected has been commonplace, that may be asking a bit much -- Brad Keselowski will be the lone fresh face in this year's Chase lineup.

Assuming Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin secure the remaining three spots Saturday night -- and the odds overwhelmingly favor such a scenario -- the 11 Chase veterans will have combined for 65 of the possible 90 playoff berths over an eight-year span. And all 11 will have made the Chase at least four times since 2004.

Johnson's never missed the playoffs in eight tries, while Gordon, Kenseth and Stewart (if he gets in) will have made seven of eight. Three others have six Chase appearances and two more have five.

Want a definitive look at how the cream continues to rise to the top, even in the Chase format? Of the eight drivers who made the Chase field in the inaugural 2004 season -- and are still active in the series -- only Mark Martin will be missing from the 2011 Chase lineup.

That's not really shocking when you realize that of the 23 drivers who have made the Chase field in eight seasons, Keselowski is just the sixth driver with only one Chase appearance, and the last time there were first-time Chase contenders was back in 2009, when Juan Montoya and Brian Vickers made the field.

But how does that compare to the other four major professional sports? The NFL has 12 playoff berths available, as does NASCAR. Six NFL teams have made the playoffs five or more times since 2004. That's one fewer than the number of NASCAR drivers who have accomplished the same feat. In all, 26 of the league's 32 teams have made at least one playoff appearance since 2004. And of those, only two teams -- the Dolphins and the Rams -- have appeared once.

Major league baseball comes closest to NASCAR in the percentage of teams that qualify for the playoffs. But even with only four teams from each league eligible for the postseason, seven teams have four or more playoff appearances over a seven-year span. Surprisingly, given the perceived disparity between haves and have-nots in baseball, 23 of the 30 teams have participated in postseason play since 2004. However, nine of those haven't made a repeat appearance.

Only one NBA franchise and two from the NHL -- including one of the Original Six franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs -- have missed the playoffs since the advent of the Chase format. Both leagues have 16-team playoffs, which means more than 50 percent of their franchises make the postseason. Still, the number of teams who have dominated the postseason in the past seven years is remarkably similar to the NASCAR numbers.

Dallas, Denver and San Antonio have made every NBA postseason, while the Bulls, the Lakers and the Heat have each missed once. On the other hand, four franchises have made just one trip to the NBA playoffs.

Detroit and San Jose are the only two NHL team to have made every Stanley Cup playoff since the strike that wiped out the 2004-2005 season. Seven other franchises have made five postseason appearances. And five others have made just one playoff in that time.

Jeff Gordon7XXXXXXX0
Matt Kenseth7XXXXXXX0
Kurt Busch6XXXXXX1
Carl Edwards6XXXXXX0
Tony Stewart6XXXXXXZ1
Kyle Busch5XXXXX0
Denny Hamlin5XXXXXZ0
Kevin Harvick5XXXXX0
Greg Biffle4XXXX0
Jeff Burton4XXXX0
Mark Martin4XXXX0
Ryan Newman4XXXX0
Clint Bowyer3XXX0
Dale Earnhardt Jr.3XXXZ0
Kasey Kahne2XX0
Jeremy Mayfield2XX0
Brad Keselowski1X--
Juan Montoya1X0
Elliott Sadler1X0
Martin Truex Jr.1X0
Brian Vickers1X0
Rusty Wallace1X0

So what does it all mean? No matter what postseason format is used, good teams find a way to make it back to the playoffs, year after year. And that's no different in NASCAR's Chase, particularly in 2011.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.