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What A Champion Is…(Or How The New #NASCAR Playoff Format Is WRONG)

Posted by Amy in General | NASCAR

If you look up the word champion up on dictionary.com this is what the definition is:

dictionary.com definition of champion.

Do you see that very first definition there? A person who has defeated all opponents in a competition or series of competitions, so as to hold first place.  It’s makes sense right? After all if you look at probably the two most popular stick-and/or-ball sports in the United States that is what they use as a Champion.  What Super Bowl team does not have the BEST record for their division going into the big game. Same for the World Series- it’s a series of games between the two teams with the best records in their respective divisions. It’s what NASCAR use to have.

But this year NASCAR messed with the format for the playoffs yet again, changing “The Chase” rules and how you qualify to even be in the chase, how you stay IN the chase, and who has a chance at the big prize at the end of they day. They wrapped it up in a cutesy little marketing package filled with coined terms they hope would be catchy: Chase Grid, Bracket, Eliminator, and special “Chase” paint schemes.  The changes that NASCAR made are challenging the very definition of what a champion is because Sunday the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will be decided for 2014 and one of the four drivers who has a chance at the cup has NOT won a race all season. The very idea of that someone who has not won ONE race all season can win a championship is, to use Misty’s word, asinine.  That is not a championship- that is a lottery.

First I have to come out and say- this is nothing against Ryan Newman.  Some say that he was too aggressive with Larson in Phoenix. I didn’t see anything there that wasn’t racing.  But the numbers speak for themselves.  Let’s look at some of the numbers shall we?

Here are the four drivers eligible to win the cup this year (2014) in this new “playoff style” format along with their number of wins, top 5′s, top 10′s, poles earned and laps led for this season:

Cup EligibleChasers

These are the drivers who are competing for the Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead Miami on Sunday

So it is obviously the two favored drivers of Logano and Harvick against Hamlin and Newman who seem to be more of your classic underdog drivers.  That would be fine and dandy except when you look at some statistics for drivers racing at Homestead-Miami that will be considered “also rans” in this new “playoff style” format.  They are considered “also rans” because while racing at Homestead- they do not have a chance at winning the championship yet their stats speak for themselves:

2014 Also Ran Drivers

The first four of this “also ran” chart were originally in the chase field as set at the beginning of the chase. *I included Tony Stewart here- because as you all know he is my driver and as much of a Stewart fan as I am- I will be the first to tell you that he’s had a craptacular year. He is currently 25th in the standings.

My point is this: two of the drivers who have a chance at the championships have fewer wins, top 5s, top 10s and laps lead than three of the five drivers up there in my “also ran” list for this season (Yes I purposely picked high performers for this list- that was the point).  How does this championship format reward wins if four of “also ran” drivers have more wins than two of the drivers actually eligible for the Championship cup this season? You can’t even argue with me that this new format rewards consistency over wins because if you measure consistency by adding top 5s, top 10s and laps lead alone- then Tony Stewart- who as I mentioned has had an absolutely terrible year this season- should qualify for the chase before Ryan Newman who is actually eligible to win the championship cup. What does this prove? Only that this new “chase” with it’s “playoff style format” is NOT a championship but an esoteric, jump-through-hoops-to-get-in, lottery system.

How Can This Be Fixed?

Beyond going back to a points system like we use to have- I am not sure that it can be.  NASCAR thought that fans were tired of dominance and legacy as defined by Jimmie Johnson’s championship run so they started changing the playoff format here and there- first by creating the “Chase” and then by creating this new SPRINT CUP Lottery format. That is just ridiculous. What professional sports sanctioning body does that? I am pretty sure how you qualify for the Super Bowl or World Series hasn’t really changed.

Misty suggested a wild card in the final race for anyone who let the championship points lead but didn’t make the cut. It could be a start to at least making it more like a championship. You have to remember- in NASCAR racing you don’t have two teams vying for the prize every weekend- you have 43. This is not a stick-and-ball sport. This is racing.

Maybe go back to a straight points system- but have wins be worth way more points- like 20, 30 or 50, as well as a point a position, with 1 bonus point for leading a lap and 5 for leading the most laps. NASCAR should go back to 2011 and look at Tony Stewart’s championship. THAT is the kind of championship they want to see.  Two drivers (Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards) battling it out for every point, every position.  The swagger, the smack talking drivers. Quotes like “I’d wreck my mother to win a championship.”  THAT is what fans want. At least that is what THIS fan wants. Regardless of who those drivers are.  Watching Homestead that year? I was in a state- Tony ended up with a hole in his grill in the early laps. I was SURE it was over- but they battled back and WON the race and the championship over Carl Edwards.  THAT was a great championship year. Fans (and perhaps NASCAR) need to realize- not all races will be close, nor will all championship runs. But this ridiculousness? This is not a championship- this is a lottery and to me- it takes a little bit off the prestige of the cup.

As for me- I didn’t really have a dog in the pony show this season. Will I watch Homestead? Yeah – I am rooting for Tony for the win and Kevin for the championship. He deserves to be there. And because I want to see Tony at the head table in Vegas as an owner because last year wasn’t the same without him in Vegas:

Team owner Tony Stewart of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet driven by Kevin Harvick, talks to the media during the NASCAR Championship Press Conference at Trump National Doral on November 12, 2014 in Doral, Florida. (photo credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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