Let's rewind the clocks 10 years. It's 2003. Ol' Dubya is in the White House, Cold Mountain is a box office hit, and we still know NASCAR's top series as the Winston Cup. The Winston Cup Series is still using a point system that has been in place since 1975.
It is with this point system that several well-known drivers have earned their championships. Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Dale Jarrett are just some of the drivers who claimed their titles under this format. Other legends who won titles under this format include Richard Petty, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.
It is with this format that Matt Kenseth claims his only championship in one of the most boring, drawn-out affairs in NASCAR history. He claims one win, 11 top-fives and 25 top-tens. Broadcasters are more concerned at this point with the race for second place, which is much more competitive.
Due to Kenseth's boring title run, the 2004 season sees the introduction of a playoff system referred to as the "Chase for the Cup." Points are reset among the top drivers after 26 races, rendering the championship run more entertaining to watch.
The chase system has gone under certain revisions every so often, more notably in 2007 with the expansion of the chase field from 10 drivers to 12 drivers, and again in 2011 with the addition of two Wild Card spots. It has been entertaining to watch, adding an element of drama to the sport. But the question is, is it fair?
If you ask Jimmie Johnson, I'm sure he'd say yes. But if the truth were to be told, then no it isn't fair.
I respected NASCAR then and I do now for their decision. They made a business decision in order to attract the fans and make their product more competitive. In turn, their product has garnered more attention and more coverage during the playoff season.
But when it comes to champion's terms, as in what a true champion is, then the format used from 1975 to 2003 was fair. A champion is consistent. A champion is the driver who was the best all year, not the last 10 races of the season.
When you think about it, in some instances the decision to institute a playoff system hurt NASCAR more then Kenseth's 2003 title run. Under the original format, instead of being subjected to Johnson's reign of dominance, we would see a host of other deserving champions such as Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards. Johnson would still have gotten a couple of championships, while Jeff Gordon would be a six-time champion instead of a four-time champion. Brad Keselowski would have still gotten his title run (and I'm sure we still would have been subjected to the most epic championship interview of all time).
In a sense, Kenseth's single-season monotony was replaced with Johnson's five-year run of monotony. That's not a knock against Johnson, who I believe is well on par to becoming one of the greatest if not the greatest, even if it were only a two-title reign. Look at David Pearson. 105 wins, yet he doesn't even come close to matching his adversary Petty in championships.
Still, when I think about exciting I think about the inaugural Chase for the Cup in 2004, when Kurt Busch won the title by eight points. I also think about the 2011 Chase for the Cup, when Edwards and Tony Stewart were tied in points (Stewart won by way of wins). The Chase has produced some mind-blowing moments, but a racing champion should be decided by being maddeningly consistent throughout the season.
In closing, the current points system, although noble in it's intentions, does not do NASCAR the justice it deserves. I don't expect NASCAR to bring the old system back, but I can't help but wonder how different the NASCAR world would be right now.
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