By admin | December 6, 2010
By Richard Allen
The NASCAR Sprint Cup banquet has just concluded and Jimmie Johnson was crowned as the champion for the fifth consecutive time. In 2010, just as they have for the four previous years, he and his Hendrick Motorsports team proved they are the best over a ten race stretch at the end of the season.
To many, that is all they proved. According to these opponents of the current system, modern day Sprint Cup champions lack the same legitimacy of those who won a title determined over the course of an entire season. More than a few NASCAR fans and critics consider the Chase for the Championship format to be little more than a contrived joke. And if that is the case, next year could provide even more folly.
If the rumors floated out toward the end of the 2010 season are to be believed, NASCAR Chairman Brian France is considering what he calls “minor tweaks” to the championship playoff. If these rumors are indeed true a major change would have caused a complete upheaval because the minor tweaks seem ridiculous enough.
Supposedly, the Chase field is to be expanded from twelve to fifteen participants. This would be the second time such an expansion has taken place. At the Chase’s inception in 2004 only ten drivers qualified for the final ten race dash. In 2007, that number was raised to twelve.
Many believed the 2007 expansion came about as a result of the fact that over the previous two seasons the likes of Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had failed to make the top-10 by the end of the season’s 26th and playoff deciding race. Those critics said that the sanctioning body was tinkering with their own system to ensure that the sport’s most popular figures would be in the Chase each year and thus create the most fan interest during the fall season when NASCAR must compete with the NFL for television viewers.
Another expansion of the Chase field would bring about the same criticism as Earnhardt, the sport’s most popular driver, has failed to make a championship playoff in each of the previous two seasons. Many would label the expansion a ‘Junior Rule’ calling it an attempt by NASCAR to keep his many fans interested as long as possible.
Another problem with a Chase expansion would be that as of the end of the 2010 season there were only 31 teams set to run the full schedule in 2011 as true participants, meaning not as start and park teams. Essentially, half of all full time Sprint Cup runners will make the very diluted playoff next season unless new teams emerge in the very near future.
In 2010, Mark Martin went into the 26th race of the season in 15th place of the overall standings a full 666 points behind leader Kevin Harvick. That means a driver between 600 and 700 points behind will suddenly be brought to equal or near equal with the leader after that 26th race. That would be tantamount to allowing a 6-10 team into the NFL playoffs.
And besides the expansion of the Chase field, NASCAR is considering another change that they believe will assure a close points battle right to the very end of the season, much like that of 2010. According to the rumors, there will be a second re-setting of the points among fewer drivers with three or four races remaining.
Now, those who criticize the current format as one that names a champion who only has to be the best over ten races have a three or four race dash to the Sprint Cup trophy to look forward to.
Perhaps NASCAR is not attempting to fashion itself after the NFL after all. It seems as though the sport’s top brass have been watching ‘Dancing With The Stars’ or ‘Survivor’ instead.
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Here are other columns you may find interesting:
Hendrick moves not made solely for purpose of appeasing Junior, Gordon http://racingwithrich.com/?p=1324
Gustafson may offer Gordon his last shot at championship glory http://racingwithrich.com/?p=1323
What is the significance of five championships in a row? http://racingwithrich.com/?p=1319
Will strong finish by Edwards result in 2011 success http://racingwithrich.com/?p=1322
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