Will the Changes to NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup Be Good or Bad?

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2014

NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France announced major changes to the format of the Chase for the Sprint Cup on Thursday.
NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France announced major changes to the format of the Chase for the Sprint Cup on Thursday.Uncredited/Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For 10 years, the Chase for the Sprint Cup has been praised and panned, depending on where your allegiances lie.

Some fans think the 10-race playoff is outstanding. Others have hated it since day one.

And then there's those who may have originally liked it, but have also altered their mindset primarily because Jimmie Johnson has dominated the history of the Chase, winning six of the last eight playoffs.

Unfortunately, much of the Chase has been a victim of bad timing. Just when it was getting going after its first three years of existence—the first three winners were Kurt Busch in 2004, Tony Stewart in 2005 and Johnson, who began his five-year reign in 2006—the global economic meltdown occurred in 2007.

As a result, NASCAR lost countless fans and TV viewers, the former who just simply couldn't afford to go to races anymore because of oftentimes serious financial constraints, and the latter who simply lost interest or had to work to pay the bills.

There's no question NASCAR lost a lot of fans and has been able to reclaim only a few, it seems. And as far as attracting new fans to the sport, the going has been slow and arduous.

But with Thursday's announcement of significant changes in the format of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR hit the nail on the head. By creating a true elimination-style format, the pros of the new system far outweigh the cons.

Will it be more exciting? No question.

Will it be difficult for fans to understand? In a way, yes, but eventually the understanding of the new system should be pretty easy. Admittedly, there is a lot to digest, but it will come in time.

Will the new system be fairer to drivers and not give Johnson an overwhelming edge like he's had throughout nearly the last decade? Again, in theory, yes.

That is, until Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus figure out how to beat this system as well.

But the most important question of all is this: Will the new format be good not only for drivers, but for teams, media, sponsors and fans? Unequivocally yes, but that comes with a caveat for an answer:

The only way the new format will succeed is if the haters, naysayers and anti-Chase pundits put aside their negativity for at least a season or two and give the new changes to the Chase the benefit of the doubt to see if they indeed are the answer to reinvigorating the playoff structure.

I personally think the new changes will do exactly that. Admittedly during the Johnson reign, the Chase has at times gotten monotonous and mundane, even boring. No disrespect to the driver of the No. 48—his constant winning may be fun for him and his team—but it's not been a lot of fun for what I would arguably say are the majority of NASCAR fans.

They'd love to see their favorite driver—like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and so many more—have a better chance to win the Chase.

But instead, Johnson has been there, year after year after year. Only twice in the last eight seasons has he failed to win the Chase, once in 2011 when he just didn't have quite the karma that he had the previous five seasons, and again in 2012 due to crew error and then mechanical failure in the season finale.

I normally don't disparage my brethren in the media, but I couldn't help laugh to myself Thursday afternoon, a few hours after France's announcement at the Charlotte Convention Center, as a phalanx of reporters huddled together nearby trying to figure out who would have won the championship over the last eight seasons if the new system had been in place.

Some said Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have won his first crown (finally!).

Others said Matt Kenseth would have won last season, not Johnson.

Yet others said Johnson might have wound up with only two or three championships instead of the six he has thus far.

Really? Who cares! There's no way to quantify what existed under an old system and then try to retrofit it into the new system. That's like trying to take the chassis of a Toyota Camry and stretching it to look like a Humvee. Frankly, the parts just don't fit.

Face it, fans, those of you who have come to dislike the Chase have constantly complained about either completely eliminating the playoff or changing up the format significantly. NASCAR isn't going to do the former, but there you go, it did indeed do the latter with Thursday's announcement.

So whether you agree with the changes or not, give them a chance to grow on you. After all, you've asked for change and now you have it. Don't ask for something if you're not going to accept it when that change happens.

Better yet, as the old saying goes, don't ask too hard for something because you might just get it—whether you want it or like it or not.

Who knows, you may come to love the new changes to the Chase. And that's all NASCAR can hope for, because if the new format doesn't markedly increase the fan excitement and media attention, you can't say the sanctioning body didn't try.

Give it a few years to settle with you, because the worst that can happen is that NASCAR changes the format again in a few years—and will keep trying new changes until it gets the winning formula right eventually.

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