Minter: The Chase Does Not Need ‘Game 7′ Feel
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
Regardless of what you think of the current state of affairs in NASCAR, you have to give the brass some credit for trying to get the ship back on course.
Of course some might say that all the changes made in recent years have led to the problems of today, and no amount of changing back can fix things. Every kid who’s heard of Humpty Dumpty knows that can’t be done.
But it might help to go back and reexamine the glory days of NASCAR and see what has changed – for the worse – since then.
It’s no doubt that the Sprint Cup championship, and how it’s determined, is a sore subject for many disgruntled fans.
NASCAR chairman Brian France indicated last week that he’s considering some changes to the Chase format. France is looking for a “Game 7” feel for the Chase, a winner-take-all-in-the-end scenario where the remaining competitors have to race hard or leave empty handed. He said he liked what he saw when Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin were running up front and winning races as the Chase neared its end.
But it could be that NASCAR is looking at things all wrong? It could be that just by the very nature of the sport, there never will be a “Game 7” feel to the season-ending race.
For starters, in Game 7 of the World Series, the participants are two teams that survived separate playoffs to square off and likely haven’t played each other very often in the regular season.
In NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick race against nearly every week, from the Daytona 500 in February on to Homestead in November. Seeing them go at each other at Homestead was nothing new. The main difference in the Ford 400 and the Daytona 500 was that there was almost no attention paid to the other 40 drivers in the Ford 400. That seems like a waste of good tires and gasoline.
Looking back on the races of my youth, the ones that felt like “can’t miss” events, it didn’t seem to matter who was leading the points at any particular time.
When the races came to the old Atlanta International Raceway, it was like the state fair coming to town. And when it was over, a champion was crowned. The driver who won hoisted a big trophy, participated in an elaborate Victory Lane celebration and for the next year was known as the defending champion of the “Dixie 400” or the “Atlanta 500” or whatever the race was called.
It also seemed like that back in the day, the measure of a race driver was tallied in the win column. Richard Petty’s 200 wins and David Pearson’s 105 seemed to stand a lot taller than seven championships for Petty or three for Pearson. Pearson never ran the full schedule, even in the years when he was champion, and many times Petty was one of the few who showed up for every race.
The points systems back in the day were mostly incentives to get drivers and teams to run all the races, not just the lucrative ones. It’s the same at most short tracks today.
Nowadays, it seems that Jimmie Johnson’s 53 career victories, a phenomenal total given his relatively short time in the sport and the stiff competition he’s faced, barely get mentioned. It’s all about the five titles he’s won in Chases contested over the final 10 races of a 36-race season.
And does it really make sense to have “Game 7” played out in an arena [Homestead-Miami Speedway] with 65,000 seats while Bristol Motor Speedway nearly fills a 160,000-seat stadium twice a year for races that have very little impact on the championship as neither is in the Chase?
What Bristol and Daytona and Darlington and Atlanta and the first Talladega do have is that “state fair” feel, and fans seem to have a way of remembering who won there, even though the victories are of little consequence in the Chase.
– Rick Minter can be reached at email@example.com Comments