By admin | March 5, 2014
By Richard Allen
The title of this piece may sound ridiculous. After all, isn’t the Sprint Cup championship the ultimate prize in NASCAR? Surely it is valued more highly than any race win, even the Daytona 500. But before making a definitive decision on the matter, hear out the reasoning.
During one of the pre-race shows for last week’s Sprint Cup race in Phoenix, the very question posed in the title of this column was asked. Since Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. does not have a championship trophy, it was considered that his two victories in the sport’s most prestigious race might suffice as legacy achievements.
I have always weighted race wins, particularly crown jewel wins, very heavily when considering the accomplishments of any driver. But even with that said, I would have considered a season-long championship to be the most important prize in the sport. However, I may be in the process of changing my mind on the subject.
Now, however, is winning a championship worth more than simply winning a race at Homestead?
NASCAR championships used to be determined by compiling points over the course of an entire season. Then when it was decided that such a system was not good enough to keep the attention of a newfound TV audience, a change was made. From 2004 to 2013, the champion was decided by compiling points over a 26 race “regular” season used to trim the field which was followed by a ten race playoff to decide the victor. That system was updated numerous times during its existence to increase the number of drivers and make allowances for race wins.
But again during the 2013-2014 off season, NASCAR officials instituted a change. Under the new system, 16 drivers will make the 10 race playoff with the herd being thinned after three, six and nine races within the Chase. Ultimately, the 2014 Sprint Cup champion will be decided among four drivers in a one race shootout at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
If you think about it, the ”season” championship could be won by just having four good races out of a 36 event schedule.
One win during the regular season would most likely get a driver into the Chase. The other 25 races could be an inconsistent roller coaster ride, but that doesn’t matter. After making the Chase, the driver could win one race in the first three to move on to the next round, even if his other two races were 43rd place finishes. That process could be repeated two more times until said driver found himself in the finale as one of those four remaining contestants. At that point, a win in the 36th race could earn the driver a championship.
So again, a championship could be “earned” by having a topsy-turvy season in which the driver just happened to have good races at the right times.
Since it’s basically all about one race now, I would value crown jewel wins such as the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Brickyard 400 and the Southern 500 just as much as a championship. The Sprint Cup title, in my opinion, was devalued when the Chase system was instituted. That devaluation was accelerated this past off season.
This ought to make for a really interesting debate if/when Jimmie Johnson wins a seventh title to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Sr. on the all-time list.
What are your thoughts?
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