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It’s Time To Add Twists And Turns To The Chase

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 20 2014

It's road racing weekend in NASCAR and time to ask some questions. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

It’s road racing weekend in NASCAR and to help kick things off, some questions and some direct-answer avoidance:

– When will NASCAR add a road race to the Chase?

Not any time soon, appears to be the answer. While fans and even some drivers have upped their support for the idea in recent years, NASCAR officials remain swamp-water tepid to the idea.

NASCAR president Mike Helton was on a mid-week television show the other day and his answer to that question incorporated the phrase, “not on the short list”.

The rest of Helton’s answer included the usual yada-yada about how the trucks and Nationwide Series events on the twisties have become so exciting and how NASCAR drivers have improved to world class on road courses.

All of which means ain’t happening any time soon.

– When including a road race in the Chase does make the short list, will NASCAR decide to just shuffle one of the two existing events into the playoff mix or add a third track/race?

This could be one of the reasons the issue still remains on the long list.

The gut feeling is that fans would like to see a third event at a new venue. There are some very nice road courses out there. Like Mid-Ohio, Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, Road Atlanta and, of course, Road America.

The problem is, none of those tracks are owned by ISC or SMI. Putting a Cup race at a track not owned by one of those two groups could cause a stockholder revolt.

– Then, just reschedule one of the existing events to the Chase, is that the answer?

This is probably the best solution.

Sonoma, because of Northern California weather, could slide into the Chase with relative ease. Watkins Glen, on the other hand, not so much. It would have to be inserted in the first half of the Chase to insure agreeable weather.

All of which means, well, both Sonoma or Watkins Glen could move to Chase depending on what NASCAR thinks would be the optimum portion of the playoffs to slot the event.

– Would NASCAR consider running a Chase race on an infield “roval”?

Many tracks on the existing schedule have infield road courses already in place. Not all, however are ideally suited to racing 43 Cup cars at one time. For example, during the recent Tudor United SportsCar Series race at his track, Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren was asked if he would be interested in holding a Cup road race.

Warren said it would be all but impossible. Major logistical changes would have to be made to accommodate 3,400-pound, low downforce stock cars.

The Daytona International Speedway roval could, presumably, be suited for a Cup race. But, it would be a pretty safe bet that not all 43 cars would finish such an event. The Tudor series – and the Rolex Grand-Am and American Le Mans Series from whose loins it strung – have/had attrition problems at rovals. Cup cars? Also, a third DIS race? Or killing off the Firecracker? Um, no.

– Which current Chase event gets dumped should a road race earn Chase status?

This is another reason why NASCAR may not be hot to trot on including a road race on the Chase roster.

Chase races are viewed as gold by the tracks that have them. Being bumped would be considered by fans of the bumpee to be a demotion.

If the decision is made to move Sonoma to Chase, look for an SMI track to be demoted. If it’s The Glen, then look for an ISC track to be demoted. And look for fans – in the grandstands and garages – of the demotee to fuss like crazy.

– Would NASCAR really honor the tradition of racing in the rain during a Chase event?

Probably yet another reason why the issue has not moved up  to the short list. If a vote were held in the garages, Talladega would likely be removed from the Chase. Teams hate the capricious nature of plate racing. They hate it even more when plate racing is included in the Chase.

And racing doesn’t get much more capricious than road racing in the rain.

Recent experiences with NASCAR vehicles in wet conditions have not been very agreeable – except maybe to fans.

– Any other reasons why NASCAR seems reticent to include road races in the Chase?

Well, there’s the issue that all racing series are dealing with these days – expense. Presumably, race teams would have to come up with more money to race more road circuits. Everything from tires to fueling ports change for road races and change costs money.

And if one of those road races is in the Chase, well, more time, effort and money would need to be allocated to contending teams’ efforts on the twisties.

– Is road racing in the Chase so radical of an idea that it would run off the remaining old schoolers in the sport?

It could actually bring some of those oldsters back into the fold. Road racing has been around a long time in NASCAR. It has a Golden Age aura about it. Oldsters still speak with reverence about road races at Ontario and Riverside.

– So, with a plethora of reasons why road racing in the Chase would represent an iffy proposition, are there any reasons why the issue should, not just be moved up to the short list, but actually be put into play?

Well, yes, there’s one big reason. Some would considered it to be The Reason: It would elevate Sprint Cup’s status as a true test of driver ability and race team proficiency.

Teams and drivers themselves will tell you how much pride they get from winning road races.

In light of that, NASCAR should just decide its is bringing a road race into the Chase and set to work on ironing out the details. It has solved bigger problems than those mentioned above over the past 70 years. Just freakin’ do it.

To get the ball rolling here is some help: Move Sonoma to Chase, make Road America a third road race, take Chase race from Dover.

Voila!

Just like that NASCAR has added, like 12 action-producing corners to the Chase, 28 to the yearly schedule and has bolstered claims about the playoffs producing a true champion.

You’re welcome.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 20 2014
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