The unintended consequences of NASCAR’s pivot to The Chase format prove what’s good for NASCAR ratings may be bad for NASCAR drivers.
NASCAR’s brainchild to lure fans back to the sport is known as The Chase. NASCAR officials believe it’s a better way to determine a series champion. The Chase places a premium on winning races at the expense of consistency.
The Chase Is The Root Of NASCAR’s Problem
The way it works is this. After 26 races NASCAR tallies up the points, adds on the bonus points for winning races and resets the top 16 for the Challenger Round. We do this three more times eliminating four drivers each time, until we get to the final race where four drivers race for the best finish and that makes a champion.
Winning is paramount in each round, because it guarantees the driver advances to the next elimination round.
Sounds exciting, right? The unintended consequences of this format are just beginning to surface and it will create situations in which NASCAR’s sanctioning body will determine more races than the drivers. Furthermore, the win-at-any-cost mentality created by the format will endanger drivers’ lives.
Mayhem At Martinsville
Crashes in NASCAR are as common as paparazzi are to the Kardashians. What makes this particular one stand out? Several things.
Kenseth was leading the Kansas race with four laps to go, when Logano got into the back of Kenseth’s car and spun him out which cost Kenseth the win and a chance to go to the next round. Kenseth was the leader and he used a defensive, blocking tactic to prevent from getting passed. Blocking, bumping to move someone over to pass are all moves seen in every race.
Kenseth felt that since Logano bumped him out of the Championship at Kansas he would even the score by denying Logano any chance to win the next race and a pass to the final at Homestead. Kenseth seemed unconcerned he was getting lapped by the leader. An earlier altercation with Brad Keselowski put Kenseth many laps behind the leader already.
Kenseth’s behavior demonstrates drivers are willing to take chances they might not normally take to win a championship if a win is the only way to get to the next level. NASCAR will have to face the question, “When is it a good thing to take out the leader of a race?”
Until they do, they might as well change the name from “The Chase” to the “Last Driver Standing.” Or, better yet, the driver who caused the fewest accidents.
We do not need made-for-TV, reality show entertainment. We need a competition that pits drivers and their teams racing on the same level so racing, not crashing, determines the winners.
NASCAR’s Official Reaction
After the race, NASCAR chairman Brian France said he doesn’t want drivers to take matters into their own hands.
“What we’re not going to do is take the style of NASCAR and parlay that into something where one driver or another believes the way to pay back somebody for something that happened is to take matters into their own hands,” France said on SiriusXM Radio’s NASCAR Channel “Morning Drive’ show.
“Obviously, we won’t be accepting that. The most important thing is the way to pay drivers back is to race them hard. … What happened [at Martinsville], that’s not quite the way we would have liked to have seen that turn out.”
Fine words. While France’s comments are politically correct, they are woefully ignorant of human nature. When young drivers are pumped full of adrenaline, their competitive natures override their better judgment. Incidents like this will arise again.
Then, maybe actions speak louder than words. How did NASCAR enforce its own rules? NASCAR suspended Kenseth for two races for causing the wreck. Did the penalty fit the crime? Perhaps not.
In 2012, NASCAR didn’t suspend Jeff Gordon after he intentionally wrecked Clint Bowyer at Phoenix International Raceway and eliminated Bowyer from Chase contention. NASCAR fined Gordon $100,000 and docked him 25 points. Is this possibly a double standard?
France said he didn’t think Sunday’s incident was similar to Logano’s spinning out Kenseth last month at Kansas.
Sanctioning Body May Decide More NASCAR Races Than Drivers
The sanctioning body has been reluctant to suspend drivers in general for in-race retaliation and, even in the most egregious instances, has typically only issued a one-race suspension.
When you consider that there has to be dozen of wrecks in each race, at least the big one on the Super Speedways, this would mean that we would end up with no drivers by the end of the season, if they were to suspend all drivers who cause wrecks.
NASCAR has let this kind of driving be the norm for years and Dale Earnhardt Sr. made a career of it.
Fans need to ask, “Where would this all be if Logano would have received some life altering injuries?” Fortunately, we don’t have to contemplate that this time.
When NASCAR reviews this in the future, they need to take the lion’s share of the responsible, for most of the blame falls back on them for the lack of clarity over on track racing rules.
Now back to Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano
Joey Logano still has two races to make it to the final four and Matt Kenseth now is sitting out two races with only three remaining this season. Conceivably, both could be racing in the Final.
It’s time to set up new guidelines to tell drivers what’s good racing and what’s not. This type of driving has to stop. We will have enough wrecks without intentionally crashing into someone as a payback!