Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Are the Right Drivers Out of the Chase?

You can say a great deal of things about the Chase for the Sprint Cup in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. You can say it’s a gimmick. Call it a flawed, unnecessary system. Consider it an intrigue-injecting setup that makes for an altogether exciting race to the title.

Whatever the opinion – and oh, are there many – has there been a more-discussed topic in NASCAR over the last decade? The newest change to the Chase has brought an added dimension to the discussions. With the 10-race shootout now broken into four rounds, with four drivers eliminated after the first three and then three losing out in the fourth one-race showdown to crown the eventual champion, the concept of year-long consistency or at least mostly good runs has been diluted further than it was when the points were reset after 26 races. Run great for 26 races? Great. Continue that through 29? Cool. But then there’s the real, bonafide possibility that you could stink up the show during races 30-32. Where might that put you? Out of a title chance, likely.

But here’s the question: does the cream generally rise to the top regardless? Pre-Chase, there were no surprises. The title winner and those in contention until the end were simply the best. Once the Chase hit, it wasn’t like such-and-such journeyman who squeaked in as a surprise 12th seed was suddenly performing Superman feats to get him to a championship, either. Maybe the driver who scored the most points all year wouldn’t necessarily win anymore, but who did win was no slouch. Usually.

It’s a concept that is tested even more with the eliminations because, again, win 35 straight races and falter in No. 36 and it’s sheer tough luck on your part. Unlikely scenario, sure, but you get the gist. No safety net.

Which brings us to this weekend. In all, 12 drivers remain in the Chase, down from the 16 that began it. Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray and – gasp – Jimmie Johnson? Done-zo.

And that’s not a problem. At all.

Yeah, you know you heard the dissent about Johnson being knocked from a Chase berth. Heck, maybe you were one of the voices leading the charge. That’s really cool and all, but if we pause for a moment and think back to how the game used to be run – as in, whoever gets the most cumulative points over the however many-race season wins – the right drivers went out because they sure weren’t going to win the championship by virtue of how they’ve run over the previous 29 races.

And some of those are easy cases to make. Bowyer currently ranks 17th in cumulative points in a season where he’s currently trending toward his lowest top-five total in his entire career. He barely squeaked in to begin with, and he was never a factor. Same goes for Menard, who slots in at 14th in cumulative points. Nice to see him finally put together 26 races and make it in, but he was nothing more than a diversion, a nice story that wasn’t going to go anywhere. McMurray was the strongest of the bunch and still ranks 11th in cumulative points, but we’re talking about a driver who was highly consistent all season and thus gained an entrance, certainly not because he could manage challenging for a win. Nice try at Dover, though.

Johnson is admittedly the black sheep of the bunch. He won four races throughout the regular season, is approaching 20 top 10s and was a general force to be reckoned with. His cumulative points standings spot shows that: sixth. In theory, a fine placement.

Except if we want to blast the Chase for being what it is and consider it a gimmick that doesn’t actually reward top talent while also decrying that the sport’s six-time champion didn’t make it through, there’s really no point. Johnson is currently 136 points behind the leader in cumulative points, Joey Logano. Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth still rank ahead of him. Face it, a collapse of epic proportions by those around him is the only way he would have emerged champion. And even under the old Chase system, his 41st-place showing at Dover would have stuck him in a hole out of which he would have had a whale of a time emerging.

I’ll concede that if Earnhardt had missed the next Chase round – since he almost did and all – it’d be worth it to sing that tune, same with Harvick. And that’s where the potential flaw in the system comes in: the fact that it came so close to happening. And sure, maybe once the next round ends, Logano, Harvick and/or Earnhardt, the drivers who realistically should win this title based on overall season performance, will be on the outside looking in. Then, maybe, we can talk, unless the events that led them to flounder were so stark that, yeah, it was just their time.

But even if that time comes in a few weeks, it doesn’t change the fact that right here, right now, the right drivers are no longer in contention for the title. Even Jimmie Johnson. Better luck next time. Can we talk about how Ryan Newman is still in instead? Oh boy.

About the author

Rutherford is the managing editor of Frontstretch, a position he gained in 2015 after serving on the editing staff for two years. At his day job, he's a journalist covering music and rock charts at Billboard. He lives in New York City, but his heart is in Ohio -- you know, like that Hawthorne Heights song.

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Well, we can forget about a lot of things, but the truth is stock care racing is not the same as “stick and ball sports”. We don’t need to refresh the brainless as to why that is so, and basically patently unfair. The only thing people with sane minds need to know is the season..the whole long season and where you stood at race 36 in the pecking order of things, should be the true test of a champ. I say if we know a couple of races before that Jim B. GoodDriver is going to hoist the trophy…then so be it. Why the need for this incessant, manufactured, manipulated and false drama? Are people that bored and miserable that they don’t care that they are being manipulated on so many levels from Nascar? It need not be that way, but what the hell do I and many others know. The Emperor with No Clothes and his flunkies at Castle Daytona and the media know apparently know more than we do, look at it the whole program is just getting great reviews and ratings. OMG! IMO of course.




Since the importance of each race is now minimized with the ridiculous playoff system, it is no longer worth watching a race just for the race itself. Being beaten over the head by the playoff scenario from race 1 sucks all the joy out of just trying to watch a good race. TV focuses only on the front runners or favorites, depriving fans of the opportunity see the race as a whole, see the ebb and flow. The overabundance of cookie cutter tracks with the aero problems hasn’t helped. Nascar has squashed and creativity for the teams by mandating so many parts and pieces on the cars that there is barely room for ingenuity. Is anyone really surprised that TV ratings are dropping steadily as the ‘chase’ goes on, and empty seats at the tracks aren’t being filled?


Does anybody know anybody (not on the payroll) that has even the slightest interest in the Chase?


Does it matter? Everybody thats interested in sports is watching football.


I guess I’m an anomaly, as I hate football with a passion! And I feel the same way toward baseball too, even though there is a (somewhat of a) local team (Blue Jays) in the playoffs, and that is being rammed down my throat by colleagues. No, I am still watching races, and will watch while there are two Fords still in the hunt. However, once Joey and Brad are out, the TV goes off until February


I get that, I’m a Ford guy as well. That said the Chase has killed any interest I have in who is deemed the Champion. Is the format itself more or less likely to watch? Have you any interest in the Chase?


JohnQ, I have no interest in the chase. Like you and so many have said, it’s a pile of smelly bullcrap, devised by a brainless idiot who knew nothing about the sport, despite being raised in it, and who was stupid enough to hire a bunch of no-nothing goofballs from some marketing firm in New York who’s sole goal was to destroy a growing sport and turn it into something it wasn’t meant to be, that being entertainment. That’s why it’s so disgusting that drivers are more known for their celebrity status, rather than their talent. Total hogwash!

No, I don’t care for this BS. I do, however, look at the “classic” points that are published on Jayski. That’s why this system sticks so bad. Logano would be the current leader, rather than being ranked fourth. But, hey, having two guys separating themselves from the rest of the field with seven races to go is bad for business, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you rather have someone who has done nothing for the first 26-races suddenly be one of the top choices for champion? Or, better yet, someone who missed 11-races due to his ego and stupidity, and is really in 22nd, only to be given a gift of being the possible champion? Ya, I thought so! People blame Matt Kenseth for running a very consistent season back in 03 for this mess, adding the fact that while he had eight wins verses Kenseth’s single win, Newman also had ten races with a finish of 39th or worse. Or, in 2011, when Tony Stewart basically sucked for 26-races, and was some 400 points behind Edwards, only to capitalize on the points reset, and win five of ten races to tie, and thus win, the 2011 championship. What a farce!

No, I hate the chase as much as I hate stick-and-ball sports. But, as long as two Ford drivers, Logano and Keselowski, are still in it, I’ll still watch. But, like I said, once they’re out, off goes my TV until February (except for Monday and Tuesday evenings of course! Can’t miss NCIS, NCIS-LA, NCIS-NO, Scorpion, and Big Bang Theory!)

Don in Connecticut

I have a vintage Corvette roadster and a Harley. October is one of if not the most beautiful months of the year. Perfect riding/driving weather.football is ok once it’s too cold outside. The Chase? Nah.

Biff Baynehouse

#4 was P1 with a 41 point lead prior to the chase came within a cat’s whisker of being eliminated. #48 was P4 in driver’s points prior to the chase. Now he’s out! Yeah he had 4 wins, but #18 also missed 11 races & was p27 & some 470 points behind the leader prior to the chase! Not to mention 6 chase drivers were between 200 & 300 points behind the leader prior to the first points reset.
Furthermore, for front running teams, this format has completely revised the way individual race & season-long strategy is played out. Teams that wins early (Harv, Hambone, SuperBrad & Joey) in the season have an upside to coasting thru the majority of the season. It is now systemically & fiscally irresponsible to go 100% grapes to the wall & risk tearing up cars when the points are reset 2/3’s of the way thru the season. Only a fool would believe teams with wins have NOT & do NOT sandbag races when it behooves their bottom ($$$) line. And several have admitted to as much, namely & most recently the #11 at Dover (later stating words to the effect of “…we were gambling (& accruing pit speeding penalties) because we had nothing to lose.”
The chase is a grotesque affront to motor sports rational & logic. They have not compromise the integrity of the season championship… they have ELIMINATED IT!

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