A decade ago, NASCAR was struggling to grow beyond its moonshine-soaked Southern roots and grab a broader nationwide audience. Unfortunately, the
schedule's midseason comes at the same time as baseball's pennant races and just as football season gets chugging.
To remedy the situation and to create a similar sense of intrigue, NASCAR implemented The Chase.
With 10 races to go, the top 10 drivers ( two wild cards) drivers essentially make the NASCAR playoffs, for lack of a better description. The series
hits the big reset button, which levels the playing field and assures no one driver has the championship locked up by midseason, and that nobody can take
home the big trophy with only 1 win (as Matt Kenseth did in 2003).
If you've ever spent time at a local short track, this might seem familiar, as well it should. It's basically a big B-Main series that results in an A-Main
(The Chase) and second B-Main (Everyone else) Championship. Except this isn't a local short track, so points get involved and it gets more complicated.
Once a racer makes The Chase, his (or her) point values are leveled at 2000 base points with an additional 3 points awarded for each regular season win.
The wild card entries are not awarded any additional points. For the final ten racers that follow, the points are awarded normally, with race winners
earning 43 points and 3 bonus points. In addition, a point is awarded for leading the race and for most laps lead in a race.
But, you say, "Aside from the statisticians wet dream, why should I care?"
Well, this is the 10th year for The Chase, and all signs point to this being a hell of an anniversary.
Still not sold? Still think it's just manufactured mania?
Well, here are 10 good reasons you ought to watch the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
As you're probably aware by now, there was much drama last week at the final race of the regular season.
In fact, with just two days until the first Chase event at Chicagoland Speedway, there are still looming fines and they've set a new precedent by allowing Jeff Gordon to be the 13th man in The Chase. If you think that the NASCAR scrutiny, team orders, and questionable practices involved are going to dissipate, you've never watched a
championship. Expect metal to be bent in large quantities, new grudges to be created, and more than likely a few angry petitions to NASCAR following
Closer Racing Than Ever Before
All the hoopla at Richmond was brought about by the parity of the new Generation 6 cars and NASCAR's new policy
of trying to stay out of most skirmishes. This season has been an intense points battle, and at the close of the regular season, one point, one place, one
win was enough to determine who might enter the Chase for the Cup. Going forward, expect the margins to get even tighter and for drivers to fight tooth and
nail for position at the close of each race.
Sayonara Sponsors, Hello 'Talladega Nights'
The parity and narrowing margins mean drivers will finally come out of their sponsor-clad shells and be racers. A la Ricky Bobby, if they aren't first,
they're probably going to be last with a broken car. Also, they're likely to be vocal about it when the race is over. When it comes to the championship,
playing cymbal monkey for the sponsors takes a back seat to winning. That makes for better racing.
The "Little Team That Could" Made The Chase
While Kurt Busch has already announced he's jumping ship next season (at which point we can all go back to demonizing him as a Busch brother), for The
Chase, he and the single-car Furniture Row Racing team have a shot at the championship. They are a minnow in a sea of sharks. Cue up the Rocky theme song
and practice your Rudy-style speeches, we have a Denver-based underdog in contention.
The Golden Boy is in The Chase
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the face of NASCAR. Even those completely unaware of the sport know the third-generation racer from North Carolina. Unfortunately,
the crown has always been a bit too heavy for Jr. and he's struggled to even make The Chase, much less win a championship. This year, however, although
he's short on wins, he has been running consistent top tens. Having Jr. in The Chase means even NASCAR's fair-weather-followers have a dog in the fight.
And if he wins, he can finally step out from behind the giant shadow his late father cast.
The Brat is Back
Alright, so maybe that moniker is unfair to Kyle Busch. A perennial contender, he's won as many if not more races overall (through multiple series, mind
you) than some of the greats. Unfortunately, he's also a bit of a wild child. His abilities have consistently been overshadowed by his attitude and his
lack of a championship. If he can win the Cup this year, it'll prove that he's more than just a fast-driving hothead.
Bowyer Needs to Win for Michael Waltrip. Bad.
After Richmond, Michael Waltrip Racing took heat from NASCAR, got fined, and lost a championship contender in Martin Truex Jr. But that wasn't the worst
of it. Following NASCAR's ruling, sponsors issued
notices of apology that pledged to investigate the allegations and reexamine their relationships with the team. Clint Bowyer, now the lone MWR
representative in The Chase, needs to show that he and his team are genuine contenders. And he has to be squeaky-clean while he does it. A loss of major
sponsorship for a team that was just beginning to build a reputation would be bad, bad news.
Today is here. Tomorrow is Someone Else's Problem
Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, and Kurt Busch are all moving to new teams next year. Rather than being lame duck entrants, all three are apt to run their
cars as hard as possible. While Busch and Harvick are moving laterally or up the big-team food chain, no one has more reason to throw caution to the wind
than Ryan Newman. Stewart-Haas has chosen to let him go for, coincidentally, Busch and Harvick. Newman may not get another chance at the championship, and
it'll be extra mud in his former team's collective eye if he can beat out the two drivers slated to replace him.
13 Drivers in the Chase
NASCAR has ruled on the
Logano/Gilliland debacle, but instead of taking Logano out or telling Jeff Gordon "no," they've elected to have 13 drivers in the chase. Of course, what this Chase probably didn't need was more cars running balls-to-the-wall or more incentivized bad blood. Then there are the rest of the racers to muddy up the works, who didn't get in who are still racing for first place outside of The Chase and that fat bonus check. Only now, they don't have to contend with Jeff Gordon.
Jimmie Johnson Wants Trophy #6
Yep, Jimmie Johnson is in The Chase. Again. Whether or not you like the somewhat antiseptic driver in the #48 Chevy, he's a five-time consecutive Cup
champion (2006 to 2010)—the Goliath to the field of would-be Davids. And he won't fall to a slingshot (or a shake and bake, for that matter). If Jimmie's in
it, there's a good chance he'll win, at least historically speaking. With two years since his last championship, he's probably eager to add that sixth
title and get one step closer to Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, each of whom have seven.