It’s cutdown time for NASCAR’s Chase of the Sprint Cup Championship as the field of 12 drivers will be cut down to eight after Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Yes again, as in the first round, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and others need strong finishes to avoid being among those cut from the field! Is the NASCAR Chase Grid system is fair? See what the drivers have to say about it from this great article from SB Nation….
Just how cruel Talladega can be is a lesson Busch knows all too well. A year ago a cautious strategy saw him rack up enough points to rank second in the standings coming into Talladega, needing just to finish 28th or better to advance to the third round. Except, the cushion he accumulated in the first two races disappeared when a multi-car wreck broke out. Busch was clobbered from behind by Austin Dillon and sent crashing into the inside backstretch wall. Not able to overcome the damage, Busch didn’t advance.
One of those who did move on was Brad Keselowski, who similar to Kenseth this season, absolutely needed a victory to remain in the Chase after consecutive poor finishes to begin Round 2. Keselowski got that win via a determined drive that saw him fend off a swarm of cars over the final laps.
That’s the paradox of Talladega — where just about anyone can win thanks to the draft equalizing the field, and by extension the Chase. A victory can negate a pair of bad races, as it automatically qualifies a driver for the next round regardless of anything else. And a driver who demonstrates near weekly consistency yet doesn’t win is subjected to being booted out of the playoffs if someone else can pop-off and reach Victory Lane.
“People don’t care about greatness, they care about being entertained,” Keselowski said. “You’re seeing format changes that are a reflection of those demands.”
Kenseth and Busch (along with Jimmie Johnson) tied for the most regular season victories, but a real possibility exists that both may not make it to the third round. And with Johnson a surprise Round 1 elimination, a realistic scenario exists where the most proficient winners during the regular season will have their championship hopes extinguished by the semi-final bracket.
Of the 12 in the Chase, only Joey Logano, who won preceding races at Charlotte and Kansas, has clinched a spot in the next round, leaving the other seven position to be decided Sunday.
“It is stressful and it’s not enjoyable, but as a fan I would love the hell out of it,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “I’d love to watch somebody else go through this s*** besides me. So I get it. I don’t think that they should get rid of the Chase or anything like that because I think as a fan, once I’m done driving, it’s going to be really fun to watch somebody else squirm through this process. But it’s pretty nail‑biting, man. It’s pretty tough.”
Does that signify the composition of NASCAR’s playoffs is inherently unfair? No, as it’s no more or less fair than how the majority of other sports determine its champion.
The New York Mets had the fifth-best regular season record in the National League, but because of timely hitting and effective pitching the club will play in the World Series. In the NHL, only twice in the past 12 years has the President’s Trophy, awarded to the best team during the regular season, gone on to capture the Stanley Cup.
“The way the Chase is made and structured is providing a lot of excitement — the elimination factor really brings a lot of excitement,” Earnhardt said. “It’s just like college basketball, you get eliminated and you are out. Even if you were the number one team in the country you can get knocked out in that tournament. That is how it is. You have to be able to deliver when the time comes.”
Although it may not be how NASCAR long determined its champion and there may be elements resembling something out of a reality television show, at the end of the day the format is equitable for everyone. If you do well and succeed, the ultimate prize can be yours. If not, well, there’s always next year.