A friend of mine and myself went out for lunch today and I found myself talking sports with him and the subject of NASCAR came up. While I haven't watched any part of a NASCAR race since Gateway and the Edwards spin of Keselowski, we were talking about how the Chase was starting to become changed yet again. So in honor of that conversation, I have some changes that I believe would help the Chase format.
The first one is one that I take from Darrell Waltrip. He advocates that you have a minimum of 12 drivers in the chase, and the 1st criteria to place those drivers into the chase is that they had to have won a race that season. I agree with that. So if you have 15 winners, you have 15 people in the chase. If you only have 10 winners, then the 2nd criteria comes into play, points. The 2 drivers that have the most points without a win after the "regular season" is over become drivers in the Chase. Therefore you have 12 drivers minimum heading into the chase and can have as many as 26.
The 2nd change that I would have is the points system. Start everybody out at 0 points that qualifies for the chase. Then start from 15 points for the best placing chase finisher and go all the way down to 1 point for the 15th best chase finisher for each race. 16th place and back get no points. No advantage for finishing 1st in the races leading up to the chase. No advantage for winning a race. Everybody starts at 0.
The 3rd change is the elimination of drivers throughout the chase. After the 1st 2 races, eliminate everybody from 11th place back from winning the championship. After 5 races, eliminate the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th place Chase drivers from the competition for the Sprint Cup. After 8 races, eliminate the 5th, and 6th place drivers. So for the final 2 races, you have 4 people that still have a chance at the Sprint Cup. The great thing about this is that even though drivers have been eliminated from winning the Sprint Cup, they still accumulate points as though they were still in the running. For example, Dale Jr. was in 10th place and was eliminated from winning the Championship after 5 races. If he wins the 2nd to last race of the season, he still accumulates 15 points for the best Chaser finish. If Jimmie Johnson was 1st in points and crashed in the 2nd to last race and finished 43rd, he would finish anywhere from 12th place back in the Chase points format and would salvage at the most 4 points. So even those drivers that have been eliminated from winning the Cup would have an effect on who would win the Championship. Nobody has said that they couldn't come in 2nd though.
The final change is the tracks used for the Chase. With Chicagoland becoming the racetrack to kickoff the 2011 chase, I would like to see other changes as well. Move a Talledega date back into the chase. That could cause major problems for the Chase contenders. Move the night race at Bristol into the Chase. I would also move a Lowe's Motor Speedway race into the chase. That is 4 so far. New Hampshire deserves a Chase race. I would put a Kansas race there as well. Homestead stays the final race in the Chase. That is 7. I would love to see Watkins Glen put into the chase. And I would put Phoenix into the Chase format as well. That is 9 races. What about the 10th? I would put a "wild card" into that spot. One year, have Rockingham on the schedule. The next year, why not have Nashville in a chase race. We could put Montreal on the schedule for the next year as a chase race. So on and so forth. Make the 10th spot on the schedule a race track that is not on the regular cup schedule. You say that these drivers are the best in the world, great. Make them prove it. Have them race on a track that they visit once every 3 or 4 years. Some will hit the setup, others will miss it. But it would make for some very interesting drama for the Chasers.
In closing, I would like to say that I know that these ideas won't be implemented by NASCAR. But I believe that it would add excitement to the Chase format and also vary what becomes a very long and sometimes boring season. And anything that might bring excitement to the fans might bring more of them back to NASCAR.