Race Weekend Central

Holding a Pretty Wheel: Chase Format Left NASCAR Schedule Behind


It’s a word that many NASCAR fans loathe. After all, it’s been in the name of change that fans have endured racecars that don’t handle when they race, limited innovation, beloved short tracks replaced by cookie-cutters and a championship system that poll after poll has shown they don’t want. A lot of the changes that have come to the sport in recent years have not been well-received, and many for good reason.

The Chase for the Sprint Cup has been a particular bone of contention since its inception in 2004. NASCAR isn’t like other sports, and many of its longtime fans don’t want it to be. But since it appears that the fans’ sentiment falls upon deaf ears in Daytona, NASCAR does need to make another change – to the schedule of tracks that fall within the final 10 races.

There has been talk for years that a road course should be added to the Chase, and that’s definitely one aspect that needs to be explored. If the Chase is determining the sport’s champion, it should include every type of track, for sure. It could be done by either moving one of the two existing road course races to a later date, or by adding a third road race to the mix, which would seem preferable as the road races are generally considered some of the best of the year.

While it’s hard to argue against a superspeedway in the Chase if the road course argument holds water, it needs to be earlier in the Chase and it has no business as an elimination race. Remember the carnage that was Daytona in July? If a similar race goes down at Talladega in three weeks, it won’t be pretty, and now plays too great a role in who moves on in the Chase. As the cream rises to the top, it shouldn’t be skimmed off by someone else, and it would be a real shame if the drivers who have been the best for the first six races suddenly face elimination because of mistakes they don’t make. And argue all you want about that being true at any track; you know as well as I do that the odds are significantly greater of that happening at a restrictor plate track.

(Credit: CIA)
As road courses tend to produce some of the best racing in NASCAR, perhaps at least one should be added to the Chase. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Because there are a number of fans who do like the chaos that is plate racing, why not open the Chase with Talladega? It gives teams longer to recover and fans a better chance of seeing better racing. Where ‘Dega is on the schedule right now is setting up for many of the Chase teams to run at the back to avoid trouble. You can’t blame them for that; the risk of mixing it up at that juncture far outweighs the reward in most cases. Sure, if you have a driver who stumbles at both Kansas and Charlotte, he’ll go for the win at Talladega – but for the most part, there’s no incentive to win rather than to survive.

Perhaps a Talladega opener, followed by a breather in Chicago and the flat mile at Loudon would be a good way to kick things off. If Dover showed us anything, it’s that the stakes are too high in an elimination race for teams to take many risks, so moving that track, known for its tough racing, back a couple of weeks wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps a round two consisting of Watkins Glen, Dover and Charlotte would work a little better. Kansas Speedway has done nothing to show it deserves two races at all, let alone a Chase race, so it would be my choice to be axed.

What that does is showcase a greater variety of tracks in each round, which could change the championship picture slightly as it would spread drivers’ talents out more. A driver who’s great on one-mile tracks would not have both Loudon and Dover in one round, and one whose strength is the 1.5-milers would lose the ability to pad a segment of the Chase as well, which would make the overall championship more open.

Round three, with Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, would be a final test of drivers because Martinsville and Phoenix are drivers’ tracks. Texas puts the teams on the line with the intermediate setups.  Atlanta would be a better choice for the finale than Homestead as it does generally produce better racing, but the final race should be on a track where the champion has the best chance to create his own destiny rather than one where there’s a greater chance for others to determine his (and his team’s) fate.

Since it appears as though the Chase will be around for the foreseeable future, there needs to be a change in the approach to it. The ten tracks are virtually the same as they were before the Chase, and if such a format is to gain traction, the schedule needs to be tailored to it and not merely there because they’ve always been there. Changing the tracks us would not eliminate many of the issues with the Chase, but it could change the way teams approach it and make it a better contest.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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Bill B

I wish NASCAR could use a similar logic as you’ve employed to explain to us why they’ve set the chase races up the way they have. Maybe some of us could buy into it a little better if they could explain why things are the way they are but I doubt that they ever use the same kind of logic you’ve employed when making their decisions.


Change can be good if its done right. Nascar only seems to care about how much money a change will make them, and act based on that alone. Forget the fans, forget the quality of competition. Just money,

I agree with Amy, though. If we must have the Chase, we need to have the tracks to be diverse and placed in the right spots (especially since we now have elimination rounds). Talladega is in the worst possible spot and Nascar will realize this in a few week. Your stars running in the back protecting their points position is not what you want the world to see during a “playoff” race. But Nascar will have to reap what they sow because the schedule won’t be any different next year either.


Amy has my vote to be the new head of NASCAR. You make a lot more sense than the bozo currently sitting at the top of the heap for the France family.

Chris in TX

Not sure that the Glen in October is necessarily practical…Could end up with some weather. However, I am definitely for adding road courses to the schedule. It’s going to need to be a warmer weather one, like Road Atlanta, or Barber. I agree that the 3-race segments should all be different styles of tracks. Other than the “money grab”, Kansas doesn’t have much value. Not sure that it matters if the Plate race is first or last…seems like *someone* is going to want to take risks regardless.


Uh oh, it’s Mr. Negative! Wherever the Chase races are held its still a hopelessly flawed format unlikely to generate either much fan interest or a legitimate Champion.


i suppose i’ll have to agree with you again, Mr Negative. although i do wonder if the format would play any better with cars that could actually race.


Seeing at this point NASCAR is running generic cars with generic engines with generic suspension with rock hard generic Goodyear tires wouldn’t it make more sense to run the entire season on 1.5 mile generic tracks? That sounds to me like a recipe for excitement! I’m really surprised that the great brains of NASCAR haven’t added figure-eight tracks to add yet more “excitement”.

Capt Spaulding

Don’t forget to add chained tandem school buses for the final race, just to add a bit more skill and excitement to the Sprint Championship.

Capt Spaulding

and to add to the NASCAR -ESPN storyline, have Danica in the front bus and Ricky in the back bus…or vise-versa.


Somehow the visual of chained tandem school buses in NASCAR just cracked me up. Thanks.


“Nascar only seems to care how much a change will make them” Good for the first year maybe two & Then… I KNOW CHANGE IT..I believe it is costing them a lot more than they think ..Lets see we can’t entice the volume of younger fans we want/need…& we’re losing the old ones to age & turned off fans who can’t stand brians circus…What to do… Separate issue IMO only there is NO WAY that the best finish at Homestead should be the champion. Last race should be best points total after last multi race segment (unless you win the race itself) IE Lets say BK (or JJ etc) has just won 2 races (maybe 3) in last segment & gets a flat tire (blow fender etc) at homestead & driver X,Y,Z finish 16th-19th-25th ..The 16th place finisher is the NEW NASCAR Champion..Yeah that a good idea

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